Washington state legislation that could allow ill Hanford workers to more easily get worker compensation claims approved has been passed by the House.
However, the bill has had a substantial change from the original version.
Substitute House Bill 1723 is modeled after similar protections given to firefighters in Washington who develop serious illnesses because of their hazardous occupation. It was introduced by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, a former Hanford nuclear reservation worker.
State compensation claims by Hanford workers are denied at five times the rate of claims by workers for other self-insured organizations, according to Hanford Challenge, a watchdog group.
The Department of Energy is self-insured for worker compensation claims and contracts with a third-party administrator, currently Penser North America. DOE pays medical expenses and a portion of wages lost while a worker recovers from a workplace injury or occupational disease, if the state Department of Labor and Industries approves the claim.
This presumption of occupational disease may be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.
Substitute House Bill 1723
Under the bill, many conditions would be automatically assumed to be caused by working as little as one eight-hour shift anywhere on the site, instead of workers having to prove that a medical condition was caused by a specific exposure at Hanford.
Covered conditions would include respiratory disease, neurological disease and a wide range of cancers, including leukemia and lung, thyroid, breast and colon cancer.
Heart problems also would be covered if they were experienced within 72 hours of exposures to chemical vapors or other toxic substances at Hanford.
However, the revised version of the bill that passed the House includes language similar to the law passed in 1987 covering firefighter claims.
The presumption that conditions were caused by working at Hanford could be refuted by other evidence, according to the bill. Evidence could include, but would not be limited to, smoking, physical fitness, lifestyle, family history and worker exposure to toxins at other jobs or in their personal life.
The House vote was 69-29. The bill also must be approved by the Senate.