Nuclear Health and Safety:

Workers' Compensation Rights Protected at Hanford

RCED-91-203: Published: Sep 10, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether the contracts between the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and the Department of Energy (DOE) and its predecessor organizations to administer a self-insured workers' compensation/pension program for contractor employees at the DOE Hanford site since 1943 prevented Hanford employees from filing workers' compensation claims for radiation-related injuries or occupational diseases resulting from their employment at the Hanford site.

GAO found that: (1) prior to the late 1950's, employers were responsible for submitting claims to the state; (2) due to concerns that some employers were not submitting claims to the state, Washington revised the procedure to require the attending physician to submit part of the Report-of-Accident form directly to the state and a second part to the employer; (3) there was no evidence that DOE did not forward employee claims to the state prior to the procedural change and DOE, state officials, and employee union representatives were not aware of any Hanford employee being denied the right to file a workers' compensation claim; (4) since the Hanford site was producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, workers' compensation contracts contained several clauses to safeguard the secrecy of classified activities, but those clauses did not prevent the state from obtaining information needed to process Hanford claims; (5) Hanford contractor employees filed 43 radiation-related claims; (6) of the 40 radiation-related injury claims, the state approved 39 claims without objection from DOE and the remaining claim involved an outside settlement; (7) of the three pension claims filed, the state rejected the two claims filed by employees' widows, since the cause of death was unrelated to the employee's work environment, and the state was still investigating the third claim filed by an employee; and (8) the results of a state review of the Hanford workers' compensation program released in November 1990 concluded that there was no evidence that employees' rights had been violated or compromised as a result of the contract.

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