Safety and OSHA News

Feds threaten suit over state law expanding workers’ comp for nuclear employees

Unless they can come to some sort of agreement, it looks like the federal government and Washington state may end up wrangling in court over workers’ comp for Hanford Nuclear Reservation workers. 

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) says it will sue Washington state to block legislation passed this year that makes it easier for Hanford workers to qualify for workers’ comp for a wide range of illnesses, such as:

  • respiratory diseases
  • neurological conditions, and
  • several types of cancer.

The legislation shifts the burden of proof. Instead of requiring a worker to prove working at Hanford caused the illness, the Department of Energy (DOE) has to prove that’s not the case.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) now must presume illnesses were the result of a chemical or radiological exposure at Hanford.

DOE can argue there were other causes for disease, such as smoking, lifestyle, hereditary factors, physical fitness, or exposures to toxic substances at other jobs or at home.

Any worker who spent as little as one eight-hour day at many areas at Hanford can qualify.

The DOJ argues the new law violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution by attempting to directly regulate the federal government.

Workers testified before the Washington Legislature in 2018 that Hanford workers’ compensation claims are routinely denied, according to the Tri-City Herald.

Claims for Hanford workers were denied at five times the rate of other claims in the state, according to Hanford Challenge, a worker advocacy group.

Since the law took effect this year, 83 claims have been made, 28 have been allowed and 6 denied, with the rest pending, according to Washington L&I.

Hanford is a decommissioned nuclear production complex operated by the U.S. government on the Columbia River in Washington state.

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