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Published on Friday, January 29, 2016

Bill requires mandatory reporting of firefighter hazardous exposures

In 2015 the Legislature passed HB 1604, creating a workgroup to discuss establishing definitions, policies and procedures for mandatory reporting of hazardous exposures suffered by firefighters in the course of employment. The workgroup included representatives from firefighter unions, fire departments, fire chiefs, self-insured employers, and AWC. The workgroup concluded its work in November; however, the report has not yet been finalized by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) and provided to the Legislature.

The workgroup agreed that exposure reporting for firefighters is beneficial. However, the group did not reach consensus on the need to mandate reporting. The workgroup also agreed that the Washington Fire Incident Reporting System (WAFIRS) should be adequately funded whether or not it is used for hazardous exposure reporting.

Now HB 2805 has been introduced and is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, February 1 at 1:30 pm in the House Labor & Workforce Standards Committee. HB 2805 directs L&I to begin rulemaking to require the reporting of all hazardous exposures for firefighters. It further mandates that the reports of exposures will be maintained for at least six years following the last date of employment and that the reports of exposures be maintained in a database that is readily accessible to firefighters.

AWC has significant concerns about this approach. The workgroup report has yet to be finalized and presented to the Legislature. The workgroup also did not reach agreement on mandatory reporting. The employer representatives, including AWC, were concerned about the additional costs for mandatory reporting. Additionally, employer representatives wanted any new reporting to be added through the existing WAFIRS reporting system while the firefighter representatives advocated for using a pre-existing system owned and operated by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters. Employers were concerned that the reporting mandate would fall to employers, but employers would have no ability to implement that mandate if individual firefighters were responsible for reporting their own exposures in a system that employers lacked access to.

This is a complex issue, and while there was agreement that hazardous exposure reporting is beneficial, this bill seems premature. AWC will be expressing these concerns at the hearing.