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Frequently Asked Questions: WISHA

Select an item from the menu below:

What is WISHA?

Who administers WISHA?

What does DOSH do?

Who is covered by WISHA?

How does WISHA work?

What standards does WISHA enforce?

What is a safety and health standard?

What are employers' safety and health responsibilities? 

How can WISHA help employers?

What are workers' safety and health responsibilities?

What are workers' rights under WISHA?

What if my working conditions seem to be unsafe - how can I file a complaint?

Most of the information on this page is extracted from the document entitled "A Guide to WISHA" that is available on our web site.  Much more information is available on our website. To find information in a particular section, browse the A-Z Safety and Health Topics for specific topics.  If you have other questions that do not appear here, you can send us comments through Site Feedback and one of our staff will respond to your questions and concerns.

What is WISHA? back to menu

WISHA is the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, Chapter 49.17 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), enacted in 1973 by the Washington State legislature.  In 1976 it became the nation's first fully operational state safety and health plan approved by the federal government. We have a long prior history of public service dedicated to the protection of worker safety and health.  Our state constitution of 1889 says, "The legislature shall pass necessary laws for the protection of persons working in mines, factories and other employments dangerous to life or deleterious to health; and fix pains and penalties for enforcement of the same." (Article II, Section 35)  DOSH gives the Department of Labor & Industries a primary responsibility for worker health and safety in Washington.

Who administers WISHA? back to menu

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) is responsible for administering the requirements under WISHA.

What does DOSH do? back to menu

Our job is to ensure that employers provide safe and healthful working conditions for Washington's workers.  We work in partnership with business, labor, institutions and other government agencies to save workers' lives and to help prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.

Who is covered by WISHA (Washington Industrial Safety & Health Act)? back to menu

Nearly all employers and employees in Washington are covered, including workers for the state, counties and cities.

How does WISHA work? back to menu

Employers in Washington must follow safety and health rules, called standards, to protect their employees from workplace hazards.  The Department enforces the rules by inspecting workplaces without advance notice, and by investigating work-related fatalities, incidents and complaints.  When a violation is found, we issue a citation requiring the employer to correct the hazard.  The WISH Act requires monetary penalties for serious violations.  We encourage employers to voluntarily comply with the standards, and offer free on-site consultation visits and training services.   Employers are required to fix serious hazards identified by a consultant, but penalties are not assessed.  For more information on services which DOSH offers to employers, visit the Safety portion of our website.

What standards does DOSH enforce? back to menu

As required by WISHA, we enforce general safety and health standards, also called horizontal standards, that all employers must comply with (Chapters 296-24 and 296-62 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC)).  Industry-specific standards, also known as vertical standards, apply to about 30 specific industries such as construction, logging, and agriculture.  There are also administrative rules covering record keeping, posting of certain documents, and other paperwork requirements that must be followed by all employers (Chapters 296-27 and 296-900 WAC).

What is a safety and health standard? back to menu

It's a set of rules that specify how the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA), Washington's workplace safety and health law (Chapter 49.17 RCW), will be carried out or obeyed.  Examples include the requirement for all employers to have an accident prevention program tailored to their operations and the specific hazards involved; requirements for the proper handling and storage of hazardous materials; and guarding requirements for power operated tools. 

WISHA standards, by federal OSHA law, must be "at least as effective as" federal standards.  When OSHA adopts or changes federal standards, we must adopt or modify WISHA standards so they are identical to or at least as effective as federal standards.  We also write our own standards with no federal equivalent based on needs identified by our staff, labor or management groups, workers' and employers' suggestions, and when required by legislative action.

All permanent workplace safety and health rules are adopted, amended or repealed through a formal process that gives the public advance notice and an opportunity to comment.  After approval, the rules become part of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

For more information on standards, who writes them and how the public can get involved, browse the section on rule making in "A Guide to WISHA ".  To learn more about standards currently being considered and how you can get involved, browse the New Rule Activity page.

What are employers' responsibilities?   back to menu

WISHA, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, is designed to ensure employers are providing employees in Washington state with safer and healthful working environments. Under WISHA, employers must:

  • Provide a safe and healthful workplace and comply with safety and health standards. Begin and maintain an accident-prevention program. The program must include both employer and worker representatives and be tailored to the particular needs of the workplace.
  • Prominently post a notice of employer responsibility and employee rights (the WISHA poster contains all the required notices).
  • Provide training about job health and safety.
  • Keep records of all job-related incidents. Recordkeeping systems must meet state requirements.

How can DOSH help employers? back to menu

Authorized employer representatives who are not sure whether workplace conditions comply with safety and health standards may request free, confidential consulting services from the division's consultation staff. Safety and health professionals can examine the workplace and make recommendations on how to comply with WISHA standards. They can analyze employers' accident prevention programs and provide training.  To find out about DOSH's free consultations and educational services, visit the Safety area of our website.

DOSH offers a series of no-fee workshops on occupational safety and health topics, and several other workshops dealing with topics such as industrial insurance reporting, claims management and loss control, ergonomics etc.  To find out more about DOSH workshops, visit the online workshop catalog

Consultation staff also operate a safety and health film library to lend audio-visual materials to employers.  Browse the online DOSH video library catalog for more information.

What are workers' responsibilities? back to menu

WISHA requires workers to comply with all safety and health standards that apply to their actions on the job. Employees must:

  • Read the WISHA poster.
  • Follow the employer's safety and health rules and wear or use all required gear and equipment.
  • Report hazardous conditions to a supervisor or safety committee.
  • If a hazardous condition isn't fixed, an employee should report it in writing to L&I.
  • Report any job-related injuries or illnesses to the employer and promptly seek treatment.
  • Cooperate with DOSH inspectors.

What are my rights as a worker under WISHA? back to menu

You have the right to:
  • Bring job safety and health concerns to your employer's attention.
  • Discuss safety and health matters with other workers.
  • Participate in union activities concerning safety and health matters.
  • Refuse a dangerous task, when certain conditions are met. But you do not have the right to quit your job because of unsafe conditions.  If you walk off the job and your employer fires you or disciplines you, DOSH may not be able to protect you.
  • File safety and health grievances.
  • Participate in safety and health inspections with a WISHA inspector.
In addition, you have the right to:
  • File a complaint about workplace safety or health hazards with the DOSH program, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, your local health or fire department, or any other appropriate government agency.
  • Testify before any panel, agency or court about job hazards.
  • File a safety and health discrimination complaint and give evidence in connection with such complaints.

What if my working conditions seem unsafe? back to menu

When you believe working conditions are unsafe or unhealthy, you first should bring the conditions to your employer's attention. If your employer does not correct the hazard or disagrees with you about the extent of the hazard, you may file a complaint with DOSH. Meanwhile, stay on the job.

You have the right to file a confidential complaint with DOSH if you believe there may be a violation of a WISHA standard or a serious safety or health hazard at work.  You may file the complaint with the nearest Labor & Industries office.  Call 1-800-4BE-SAFE or click here for a listing of offices and phone numbers

You may call and speak with a DOSH compliance representative about a hazard, violation, or filing a complaint.  You may also call the toll free number 800-423-7233 for general assistance. You may find additional information about DOSH, safety and health standards, and how an inspection is conducted in the "About WISHA " web page. 

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