Hardly a week goes by without one of our inspectors at the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigating a workplace death. My heart breaks when I learn about the worker and the family they left behind. 

I met Casey Yeager earlier this year. His father, Terry, died after contracting COVID-19 on the job at a plywood mill. It’s impossible to have conversations like that and not walk away with a deep commitment to worker safety, or an understanding of the holes that are left in families, communities and workplaces when people die on the job. Casey lost his dad far too soon. Tragically, Terry was one of dozens each year who die from conditions related to their work. 

Since L&I was founded more than 100 years ago, the challenges to workplace safety have been ever-changing. But one thing has never wavered: Our commitment to honoring the dignity of workers by striving to ensure every Washington worker goes home safe at the end of the day.

Today, as we approach the Labor Day weekend, remember the risks that workers face across the state — including the pandemic, high heat, wildfire smoke, construction falls, hazardous workloads in warehouses and other dangers. As new industries grow, new hazards grow with them. And from those early days on remote logging work sites through today’s pandemic, L&I has responded in real time to the threats workers face.

Summers have been hotter and smokier. If you work outside, these conditions have the potential to be life threatening. So this summer we announced emergency rules that require employers to monitor temperature and air quality, give regular breaks in the shade, provide training and information to their workers, and take additional steps to protect workers from heat and wildfire smoke.  

We’re one of just a few states to have rules that address workers’ exposures to these hazards. As we work to make those rules permanent, we’re talking regularly with stakeholders including farmworkers and businesses. We hear from some that the rules go too far; others that they don’t go far enough. The emergency rules set a standard we can build on, and they are critical to have in place so workers are protected while we develop permanent requirements.

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Of course, rules are only effective when employers follow or go beyond them. I’m confident most employers want to keep their workers safe. L&I is here to help them do it — and to hold them accountable if they don’t. Our inspectors are out there every day performing surprise inspections and investigating serious injuries and fatalities — including a team focused specifically on agriculture. And our consultants are a phone call away with advice and assistance.

Workers are a critical set of eyes and ears on the job when it comes to safety. When employers and workers come together to focus on safety, lives are saved. When that doesn’t happen, we want workers to reach out to us. We respond to safety complaints every day, perform in-person inspections when needed, cite and fine employers who are putting workers at risk, and ensure hazards are corrected.  

Zero worker deaths is our goal. It’s aspirational — yet it’s worth striving for because it’s the way we honor the workers who build our homes, pick food for our families’ tables, pave our roads and make our communities strong.

Whatever type of work you do, your work has dignity, purpose and meaning. Your labor makes it possible for us to go about our days, support our families and chase our dreams.

We’re grateful for the work you do, and we dedicate our work to making sure you’re safe, respected and treated right on the job.