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5 Things to Know about WISHA

If you live in Washington state, you are likely familiar with WISHA and its guidelines. However, here are some basic facts, as well as some surprising ones about the regulatory program.

When WISHA Originated

In 1973, Washington state lawmakers passed the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA), which requires that employers provide healthful and safe workplaces for all their employees.

How WISHA Is Managed

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is a Washington state agency that administers various services. Within L&I is the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). This division oversees workplace health and safety, including safety inspections, rule enforcement, technical assistance, consultation, education, training, and providing grants.

L&I inspectors operating within DOSH investigate employee complaints, reported hazards, and work-related injuries and fatalities, and they may conduct workplace inspections without advance notice. When DOSH inspectors uncover workplace violations, they issue citations to the employers and can attach penalties.

WISHA’s Relationship to OSHA

In 1971, the U.S. Congress founded the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to create and enforce workplace health and safety rules throughout the nation. States are allowed to conduct their own safety and health programs, providing they are at least as effective as OSHA. Washington is one of 25 states that has opted to run its own program, so most Washington employers are subject to WISHA guideline enforcement instead of federal guidance from OSHA.

However, OSHA does oversee some Washington state workplaces: those with federal employees; those with nonfederal employees on federal military bases and reservations; those with employees on floating worksites, such as fishing boats, construction barges, and floating dry docks; and those with employees who work on tribal lands for tribal employers.

In most cases, WISHA safety regulations are similar to OSHA standards, but in some instances, WISHA standards require greater protections.

Which Employers Must Follow WISHA

Aside from those under OSHA guidance, WISHA regulates almost all employees and employers in the state, including the following:

  • Those who hire other people to work for them, including temporary agency workers
  • Those who are hired by others as employees
  • Business owners and corporate officers who have elected to have industrial insurance coverage for themselves
  • Those in contract with others for personal labor, even without paying premiums for unemployment insurance or industrial insurance
  • Those who are volunteers or have volunteer workers who receive any compensation or benefit

Per WISHA, employers must develop and maintain a written Accident Prevention Program (APP) to recognize and address the hazards to which their employees may be exposed. The APP mandates that employers form a safety committee, create safety rules, enforce those rules, and implement corrective and disciplinary action for applicable violations.

Employers must document their safety meetings by keeping minutes that include the issues discussed and the personnel in attendance. In the construction industry, contractors are expected to hold weekly safety meetings and conduct regular walk-around safety inspections for every project—before it starts and then weekly.

How Employers Can Survive an Inspection

To prevent injuries and manage any WISHA inspections, employers must ensure that company safety rules are communicated, implemented, and followed. When they observe a safety hazard, employers and supervisors should document corrective and disciplinary actions. Keeping these records and having them on-hand will help an inspection go more smoothly.

In recent years, the most prevalent violations have been related to accident prevention, fall prevention, first aid, ladder use, personal protective equipment (PPE) use, asbestos, scaffolding, power tool use, and hazard communications. However, in recent months DOSH has issued many citations related to COVID-19, such as failure to wear masks or enforce social distancing, and has levied hefty fines. The maximum fine for one “serious” violation is $7,000; the maximum penalty for one “willful” serious violation is $70,000. A company with a history of WISHA citations will likely experience harm to their reputations and increased insurance premiums.

If you have questions about WISHA and DOSH, the L&I website offers a host of resources, including events, online workshops, and videos. For more information about inspection strategies, you can benefit from consulting legal counsel with broad WISHA regulations experience.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.