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 from process equipment. For example:
- Exhaust from fuel-powered vehicles or equipment (e.g., propane-powered forklifts or air compressors)
- Toxic gases created by decomposing organic materials
- Particles in the air coming from hazardous liquids or solid materials during 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) and product labels. Request a current SDS and label from distributors or manufacturers if you don't have them.
Chemicals in the air
Check to see if chemicals can be released into the air as vapor, liquid or solid particles, or as a gas during work activities (e.g., spraying, sanding, welding), processes (e.g., combustion, evaporation, fermentation), or from equipment (e.g., metal plating tanks, industrial mixers and conveyors).
Chemicals in the air that are possibly hazardous are called “airborne contaminants” and regulated under the Air Contaminants rule, Chapter 296-841 WAC. Airborne contaminants would necessitate additional safety measures when workers’ exposures are above the regulated limit for the chemical (called a permissible exposure limit or 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.
Exposure Limits (PELs) for Airborne Contaminants
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.
Air testing or sampling is often the best way to evaluate whether workers exposures are too high. This is also called “exposure monitoring”. Exposure monitoring is a complex task and requires specialized knowledge, equipment, and experience to ensure proper protocols are followed and results are accurate. Industrial hygienists or other specialized safety professionals, such as an L&I consultant, can help.
Creating a Hazard Communication Program
At a minimum, employers are required to develop and follow a written Chemical Hazard Communication Program when employees work with or around hazardous chemicals. Employers who import, manufacture, or distribute hazardous chemicals have additional responsibilities.
If you aren’t sure whether a chemical is hazardous, check information on required safety data sheets (SDSs) and product labels. Request a current SDSs and labels from distributors or manufacturers if you don't have one and be sure to keep a list of the hazardous chemicals currently present in your company’s workplace.
Rule requirements are outlined in the Hazard Communication Standard, WAC 296-901-140.
A sample, customizable hazard communication program template is available in English and Spanish:
The Employer’s Guide to the Hazard Communication Rule provides a helpful checklist, answers to common questions about requirements, training guidance and a standardized label and pictograms to help your company comply with the rule. This guide is also available in Spanish.
Training resources available include:
- A Chemical Hazard Communication Training Kit for instructors
- A narrated training module, Chemical Hazard Communication for Employees
- A Workers' Guide to Hazardous Chemicals-available as an English-Spanish bilingual brochure
- Videos from L&I
- Standardized Hazard Communication Pictograms for labeling (from OSHA.gov)
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.
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.