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July 20, 2005

Court: Workplace-safety consultations remain confidential

TUMWATER — The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) said today a decision by the Washington State Supreme Court that guarantees the confidentiality of workplace-safety consultations is good news for workers and employers.

“The guarantee of confidentiality is important to employers who want help in improving workplace safety and avoiding injuries to their employees,” said L&I Director Gary Weeks. “Without that guarantee, we found that some employers were reluctant to request consultations. That’s unfortunate because consultation offers the opportunity for employers to work with the department to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.”

On July 15, the state Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals decision in a lawsuit filed against L&I by the Building Industry Association of Washington, which sought access to consultation documents. The Court of Appeals, in overturning a Thurston County Superior Court decision, ruled that state law (RCW 49.17.250(3)) provides confidentiality. Also plaintiffs in the case were Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

“I also strongly support the public’s right to review government documents,” Weeks said. “This confidentiality exception is just that — an exception to the general policy that L&I’s information is available for citizen review.”

Weeks said the court decision is timely as L&I makes greater efforts to provide assistance to employers on preventing workplace injuries and controlling their workers’ compensation costs.

“We must balance workplace-safety enforcement with education and assistance for those employers who may simply not have a complete understanding of what is legally expected of them,” he said. “This is especially important and appropriate for small businesses.”

For more information about free consultations, workshops, videos and training resources, go to www.LNI.wa.gov/Safety or call your local L&I office.

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For media information: Steve Pierce at 360-902-5413; e-mail: piet235@LNI.wa.gov or visit the L&I News and Media Center at www.LNI.wa.gov/News.

Radio broadcast version (:30)
The Department of Labor & Industries says a decision by the Washington State Supreme Court that guarantees the confidentiality of workplace-safety consultations is good news for workers and employers.

L&I Director Gary Weeks said the guarantee of confidentiality is important to employers who want help in improving workplace safety and avoiding injuries to their employees. He said that without that guarantee, the department found that employers were reluctant to request consultations.

On July 15, the state Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals decision in a lawsuit filed against L&I by the Building Industry Association of Washington, which sought access to consultation documents. The Court of Appeals, in overturning a Thurston County Superior Court decision, ruled that state law provides confidentiality. Also plaintiffs in the case were Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

Weeks called the court decision timely as his department makes greater efforts to provide assistance to employers on preventing workplace injuries and controlling their workers’ compensation costs.

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