Chemical-related injuries and illnesses are preventable.
Being informed about chemicals enables you to make good decisions about the necessary safety precautions to take in your workplace.
What does "hazardous" mean?
Any chemical that can potentially cause harm is considered to be hazardous.
Chemicals can be hazardous if they:
- Can irritate the eyes, skin, or respiratory tract
- Are toxic or carcinogenic (cancer-causing)
- Are corrosive
- Can explode or cause fire
- Create low-oxygen environments (e.g., by displacing or chemically reacting with oxygen in an enclosed or confined space)
Chemicals exist in a variety of forms in the workplace. Some common examples: liquids, stored gases, and particles like dust, powders, sprays, and mists.
Spotting chemicals at work
Chemicals do not always come in pre-packaged containers. Some are harder to spot because they are created and released by work activities or equipment. For example:
- Exhaust from fuel-powered vehicles or equipment (e.g., propane-powered forklifts or air compressors)
- Toxic gases created by decomposing materials
- Particles from hazardous liquids or solid materials created by spraying, grinding, or welding.
Get prepared before you walk through your workplace to spot chemicals. Use a job hazard analysis (JHA), Workplace Hazards & Solutions Worksheet, or some other resource to keep track of what you find and note any necessary safety precautions.
If you aren’t sure whether a chemical is hazardous, check information on required safety data sheets (SDSs) or material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and product labels. Request SDSs and labels from distributors or manufacturers if you don't have one.
Chemicals in the air
Check to see if chemicals can be released into the air as vapor, liquid or solid particles, or gas by work activities (e.g., spraying, sanding, welding), processes (e.g., combustion, evaporation, fermentation), or equipment (e.g., metal plating tanks, industrial mixers and conveyors).
Hazardous chemicals in the air would necessitate additional safety measures when workers’ exposures are above a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) . Depending on the chemical, you may be required to:
- Conduct exposure monitoring of workers' exposures.
- Improve ventilation and safe work procedures and practices.
- Use respirators and other special PPE.
- Provide for medical monitoring.
- Prepare for emergency spills and other releases.
- Provide for worker and supervisor training about specific hazards, safe work procedures and practices, PPE use, housekeeping, and other prevention measures relating to chemical safety.
Required safety programs
At a minimum, employers are required to develop and follow a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program when workers could use or be around hazardous chemicals.
Sample program templates are available in English and Spanish:
Depending on what’s possible in the workplace, your overall safety program may also need to address emergency response to chemical spills or releases, personal protective equipment (PPE), and Respiratory Protection.
Exposure Limits (PELs)
Of the thousands of chemicals used in workplaces, only a few hundred have Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). PELs are regulated limits set to protect most workers from potential harm caused by hazardous chemicals in the air.
Air testing or sampling (i.e., personal exposure monitoring) is often the best way to evaluate whether worker’s exposures are too high (i.e., above a PEL). This can be a complex pursuit; individuals will need specialized knowledge, equipment, and experience to ensure proper protocols are followed and results are accurate. Industrial hygienists or other specialized safety professionals can help.
In order to use PELs:
- Evaluate workers’ exposures as detailed in WAC 296-841-20003 and WAC 296-841-20005.
- Compare results from your evaluation to the PEL/s in WAC 296-841-20025, Table 3 "Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) for Airborne Contaminants" to see if they are higher than the PEL.
- If results indicate exposures above a PEL, follow general safety requirements in Airborne Contaminants, Chapter 296-841, WAC and requirements in other chapters for specific chemicals as mentioned in the PEL table.
You may need to pay annual fees to the Worker and Community Right to Know Program, per the Right to Know Fee Assessment rule (Chapter 296-63, WAC). Contact the program directly at 360-902-6375.
Who pays fees?
Fees are assessed to employers who reported 10,400 or more worker hours for the previous calendar year and who are in industries with a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code in the following major industries:
- Agriculture and Forestry Industries.
- Automotive repair, services, and garages.
- Construction Industries.
- Educational Services.
- Health Services.
- Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction.
- Manufacturing Industries including food industries and some bakeries.
- Miscellaneous repair services.
- Transportation, pipeline, communications, electric, gas, and sanitary services.
These industries, selected by the Legislature, typically have or use chemical products that are hazardous and may create potential exposure to employees.
For more information about your NAICS code, go to the Department of Revenue's SIC and NAICS Codes page.
What are the annual fees used for?
The fees are used by L&I and the Department of Ecology to provide:
- Free safety and health assistance to employers to help determine if hazardous chemicals are present in the workplace and to help employers set up a Hazard Communication Program.
- Free educational guidelines, brochures and other materials related to state regulations and information on hazardous substances in the workplace and community.
- Free translations of Hazard Communication Programs, Safety Data Sheets, and other related information into languages other than English.
How is my fee calculated?
The annual fee is based on the total number of worker hours reported during the previous calendar year, including full-time, part-time and temporary worker hours. The total reported hours is divided by 2,080 hours (the equivalent for a full-time worker) and rounded up to the nearest whole number. That number is then multiplied by $2.50 to determine the fee.
- Your company reported 23,716 hours last year.
- Divide 23,716 hours by 2,080 hours and you’ll get 11.40 full-time workers. Round 11.40 up to 12.
- Multiply 12 by $2.50 and you’ll get $30.
So, your fee would be $30.
How do I pay my fee?
Send the tear-off portion of the billing invoice along with your payment in the pre-addressed return envelope provided and include your account number on your check.
What if my payment is late?
Penalties will be assessed if payment isn’t received by L&I’s due date. The following penalties are specified in state law RCW 49.70.177:
- A 5% penalty or minimum of $10 for late payment.
- A 10% penalty or minimum of $10 if 30 days past the due date.
- A 20% penalty or minimum of $10 if 60 days past the due date.
Do I qualify for an exemption from this fee?
You may apply for an exemption if you can certify, in a written request to L&I, that you do not have hazardous chemicals at your work site. You'll need to follow the written exemption request specifications in WAC 296-63-009.
Be sure to survey your facilities for hazardous chemicals. Look for products with labels that contain words such as "caution," "warning," or "danger." Don't overlook common consumer products, like bleach or detergents, since they are classified as "hazardous chemicals" when used more frequently or for longer periods of time than what's typical for consumers.
If you plan to apply for an exemption, you still need to pay your fee on time! If your exemption is granted, the fee will be refunded to you.
Send your written request to:
Department of Labor & Industries
Right to Know Program
P.O. Box 44699
Olympia, Washington 98504-4699
- See the Worker and Community Right to Know Fee Assessment Program fact sheet. (F413-075-000)
- To learn more about what is or isn't a hazardous chemical, check the Scope and Definition sections of the Hazard Communication rule, Chapter 296-901, WAC.
- To find sample programs, training materials, and other resources to help you create your company's program, search by topic for "Chemical Hazard Communication."
If you have additional questions regarding the Right to Know Fee Assessment Program, please contact us at 360-902-6375.