Wash. Awards $4.7 Million in Worker Safety Grants

Thirty-two grants were recently awarded by\r\nthe Washington Department of Labor and Industries in an effort to\r\nimprove construction safety and ergonomics at Washington businesses.

Thirty-two grants totaling $4.7 million were recently awarded by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries in an effort to improve construction safety and ergonomics at Washington businesses.

The awards represent the first of a five-year program approved last year by the Washington State Legislature to improve worker safety and health.

"This program casts government in a new role -- that of the financial investor, investing in the safety and health of Washington''s workplaces," said Gary Moore, director of the Department of Labor and Industries. "And Washington is at the forefront, providing a unique opportunity for workers and employers to make an unprecedented impact on workplace safety and health here."

The initial invitation for proposals generated nearly 200 applications with costs priced at more than $38 million.

The applicants were narrowed down to the 32 successful projects for the first-year funding of $4.7 million.

Funding is from the Medical Aid Fund, a portion of the workers'' compensation system into which employers and workers pay premiums.

More than $3 million will be spent on construction related safety projects, such as improving fall protection skills for insulation and asbestos workers and increasing the number of qualified crane operators.

Another $1.5 million will be spent on projects that focus on ergonomics issues in various workplaces, ranging from a paper company to grocery workers to an aerospace firm.

A grant review committee, composed equally of business and labor representatives, screened and recommended the 32 grant proposals to the Labor and Industries department, which made the final awards.

One company, BF Goodrich Aerospace in Everett, Wash., was given $114,500 to create a system for assessing ergonomic risks and developing solutions. The goal of the project is to prevent injuries at non-fixed workstations in industrial settings.

Grants Impact Wash. Ergonomics Rule

The awarding of these grants is a major step toward Washington''s state goal of preventing 50,000 injuries per year. Washington is the second state to adopt a rule governing exposure to ergonomic injuries.

The state, which administers its own occupational safety and health program, adopted an ergonomics rule on May 26 that requires employers to identify and fix ergonomics hazards in their workplaces. In addition, employers must provide basic ergonomic education for employees who work in or supervise "risky" jobs.

The rule will be phased in over two to five years, allowing time for employers to prepare for compliance.

The potential ergonomic risks, such as back strain, tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, cost more than $411 million a year in medical treatment and lost wages alone, according to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.

The estimated benefits to Washington employers from reducing these ergonomic hazards are $340 million per year.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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