Category Archives: Safety Violation

Skookumchuck Wind Farm Trench Collapse

The Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) has cited three companies for safety violations that led to a fatal trench collapse at the Skookumchuck Wind Farm near Rainier, WA.  The three companies were fined more than a half million dollars in connection with the January trench collapse, which killed one worker and seriously injured another.

The Skookumchuck Wind Farm Project

The Skookumchuck Wind Farm is located on the border between Thurston and Lewis Counties in Washington State. Southern Power, a U.S. wholesale energy provider, acquired the Skookumchuck Wind Farm in October 2019. The wind farm, once complete, will utilize 38 wind turbines manufactured by Vestas. The project was expected to achieve commercial operation in the first quarter of 2020.

The Daily Chronicle reported in late April that 350 people are working on the project. It is not expected to launch until later this year after a series of setbacks, including the trench collapse incident which halted work on the project.

DLI Investigation Results

The DLI investigation found numerous safety violations in connection with the incident. As a result, DLI has cited RES System 3 LLC for eight violations, and RES America Construction Inc. for six violations related to the fatal incident at the Skookumchuck Wind Farm site. A third company, GEMS, a medical service contractor, has been cited for one serious violation.

Two collapses buried workers

At the time of the incident, a RES System 3 employee was in a 15-foot-deep trench to position a bore pipe so it could be placed underneath a culvert by an excavator. Moments after the employee entered the trench, part of it collapsed, pinning the man.

After another worker and the excavator operator jumped in to rescue him, a second, larger collapse trapped the rescuers as well. The excavator operator was buried up to his knees, but was able to free himself and call for help.

Managers and employees from RES America and RES System 3, as well as GEMS medics arrived to assist in the rescue effort. At one point, nine or more people took turns entering the still unprotected trench to dig out the buried workers.

The crew found the worker who jumped in after the first collapse, but he was pronounced dead by an on-scene medic. A short time later, the victim buried in the first collapse was freed and taken by helicopter to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with serious injuries.

“This incident is heartbreaking and frustrating. This fatality and the hospitalization of a worker were completely preventable. Trenching at this depth, in the dead of winter after days of rain, in unstable soil with no trench box, was a recipe for disaster,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director in charge of DLI’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).

“These violations were flagrant and they nearly led to a multiple-fatality incident. Sadly, they did cost one employee his life. For these reasons, the maximum penalty allowable under safety laws is being issued for the two most directly related willful violations,” Soiza added.

RES America, the general contractor for the project, hired RES System 3 to construct the 38-tower wind farm. RES System 3 was most directly responsible for the work performed that day. The trapped worker hospitalized was a direct employee of RES System 3 and the man who died worked for Aerotek, a temporary labor agency contracted by RES System 3 to supply additional labor.

Firms cited for violations

RES System 3 had the most violations on the project and faces the largest fine. DLI cited the company for three willful violations, three serious violations and two general violations. As a result, they face $360,874 in fines.

The willful violations are for not having cave-in protection, having no competent person trained on trench safety on site, and having no written safety program tailored to the project. Willful violations are the most serious. A willful violation can be issued when DLI has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or intentional disregard of a hazard or rule.

DLI found RES System 3 acted indifferently to the site hazards and the rules, including regularly disregarding their internal safety policies and procedures, promoting a work policy designed to circumvent the requirements of the code, and providing inadequate direction to a crew doing inherently dangerous work.

RES System 3 is also being cited for three serious violations for inadequate training, improper ladder extension, and for having no means of getting out of the trench. They were also cited for general violations related to improper ladder use and setup.

RES America, the general contractor, faces $184,800 in fines. They’re being cited for two willful violations. The first is for not ensuring the subcontractor had and used cave-in protection, and for not ensuring the subcontractor had a written safety program tailored to the project. The second willful violation is for not having a written safety program tailored to the project for the company’s own employees. There are also two serious violations for inadequate training programs and improper ladder extension. In addition, they’re being cited for two general violations for improper ladder use and setup.

GEMS was a contractor providing onsite medical services. The company is being fined $4,200 for a serious violation for exposing two of its employees to hazards when they entered the unprotected trench.

Penalties and appeal rights

Employers have 15 business days from the time they receive the citation from DLI to appeal. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

Prior Posts on Related Topics

Blasting Violations Result in Loss of License for Contractor

An Idaho-based drilling company lost its license to perform blasting work in Washington due to repeated blasting violations. In the latest incident, in June of 2019, an unsafe blasting operation in Spokane put workers and the public at risk and resulted in citations, fines and loss of licensing.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited and fined North Idaho Drilling Inc. of St. Maries, ID for several willful and serious violations for the June 2019 blasting incident. In total, the company faces $92,144 in state penalties.

Rocks blasted nearly 500 feet

A crew from the drilling contractor was performing a blasting operation on North Grant Street in Spokane when the incident happened on June 21, 2019. Because the blast wasn’t planned or conducted properly, it resulted in rocks being thrown as far as 490 feet from the site – more than one-and-a-half football fields – in all directions.

Some of the rocks struck buildings, some fell on the street and some struck vehicles. Though no one was hit, several people ran for cover.

L&I has cited this employer at least two other times for similar hazardous situations, so in addition to the large fine, the department revoked North Idaho Drilling’s license to conduct blasting operations in Washington.

“There’s no margin for error with explosives, and this company has repeatedly placed workers and the public at grave risk,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director in charge of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). “This disregard for safety of the public and workers simply will not be tolerated in Washington.”

Violations were repeated and willful

This recent citation is for 11 blasting violations including three willful/serious and five serious, as well as repeat and willful general violations.

Among other things, the blaster in charge used more explosives than needed, which hurled rocks in all directions from the blast. Also, blast mats were not used properly to contain the explosion. The rocks thrown were large enough to cause serious injuries, permanent disability or death. Some did cause property damage.

The blaster-in-charge stated that he set the blast area at 350 feet, but did not ask property owners in that area for permission as required by code.  Many of their buildings were damaged, showing willful neglect of property rights.

Because this was the third time L&I has cited this employer for creating serious hazards, North Idaho Drillings Inc.’s license has been revoked in Washington. L&I rarely has to cite contractors for blasting violations, so it is notable that this company has been cited multiple times. Normally, L&I citations are for hazards that endanger workers, but in cases like this, danger to the general public is also a factor.

See news coverage of this incident by KREM, here.

See news coverage of a prior North Idaho Drilling incident, which occurred in January of 2019, by KOMO, here.

Read Expert Commentary: Construction Blasting Risk Management for an outline of appropriate procedures to assure safe completion of a blasting project.

See a prior post of ours: HOLDING INDIVIDUALS ACCOUNTABLE FOR WORKPLACE SAFETY VIOLATIONS

Roofing Company Fined for Putting Workers at Risk

Snohomish, WA roofing company fined nearly $375,000 for putting workers at risk.

A Snohomish roofing company fined by the state for multiple worker safety hazards and their violations at three different job sites is facing large fines.

After receiving calls from concerned neighbors, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) opened inspections into Allways Roofing in connection with work at three homes in Woodinville and Arlington.

L&I investigators found multiple serious hazards at each location. As a result, L&I cited Allways for several violations and fined the company $374,400.

Fall protection, unsafe ladder use and other safety violations

In Woodinville, L&I cited Allways for three willful violations. Five workers, including a foreman, were working on a steep-pitched roof without proper fall protection; workers were using a 24-foot extension ladder without extending it to a proper height above the roofline; and the employer did not have a fall protection plan onsite and workers were not trained on the plan. Those, plus four other serious violations and one repeat-general violation, add up to $191,700 in penalties.

For the Arlington worksites, L&I cited Allways for three willful violations, two serious and one repeat-general, for essentially the same hazards found in Woodinville. Those violations add up to $182,700 in penalties.

Repeat violator now in severe violator program

L&I has cited Allways Roofing seven other times in Washington since 2012. Those citations included 11 repeat-serious and eight serious violations for hazardous conditions. In those cases, Allways was fined $112,000.

“Falls from roofs, ladders and other elevated worksites are the leading cause of preventable workplace fatalities and immediate hospitalizations in our state,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director in charge of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). “This company has repeatedly exposed its workers to harm and ignored the minimum rules known to prevent fatalities. We hope this level of accountability will motivate permanent safety improvements in their operations.”

In 2018, 15 Washington workers died from falls. Six of those were from ladders; all but one were from elevation, such as from a roof. More construction workers die from falls each year than workers in any other industry. Many more workers are seriously injured from falls annually.

A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition. A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or intentional disregard of a hazard or rule — essentially meaning the employer knew of the hazard and intentionally put workers at risk anyway.

The company is now in the Severe Violator Program due to its inspection history. Among other things, that means the company can be subject to more inspections until it can demonstrate its ability to follow these rules and keep its workers safe.

Allways Roofing has 15 days from the date of the citations to appeal. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citations, contact L&I Public Affairs, (360) 902-5413.

Prior post about unsafe conditions by another roofing company: OLYMPIA, WA ROOFING COMPANY CITED 7TH TIME FOR SAFETY VIOLATIONS

Tower Crane Erection and Dismantling Violations

Tower Crane Erection and Dismantling Hazard Alert

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) issued a Hazard Alert in June 2019 discussing roles, responsibilities, and procedures during tower crane erection and dismantling. Read the full DOSH Hazard Alert: Roles, responsibilities, and procedures during the erection and dismantling of tower cranes.

The hazard alert was issued in response to an April 27, 2019 incident where a construction tower crane collapsed in Seattle, Washington while being dismantled, fatally injuring two workers and two members of the public.

Violations Result in Fines

The Department of Labor and Industries completed it’s investigation in October 2019. During the investigation, it was found that the conditions leading up to the collapse may not have been an isolated event, but was due to procedures that have been practiced throughout the industry.

The state issued citations to: GLY Construction, Northwest Tower Crane Service, and Morrow Equipment, totaling over $107,000.00. The state did not cite two other companies involved, Omega Morgan and Seaburg Construction.

New Safety Regulations – DOSH Directive 8.55

On November 4, 2019, DOSH issued Directive, 8.55 – Tower Crane Erection and Dismantling Violations which clarified the rules for the erection and dismantling of tower cranes, and established a willful penalty classification for specific tower crane erection/dismantling safety violations.

The April 2019 accident, which was found to have been “totally avoidable,” prompted the state to craft and implement the new regulations outlined in Directive 8.55.

This directive includes enforcement instructions for Compliance Officers who inspect tower cranes worksites to ensure employers provide an assembly/disassembly director and follow the manufacturer’s written procedures when erecting and dismantling tower cranes. Directive 8.55 also creates a willful violation classification, allowing for increased penalties in cases where safety is compromised.

WAC 296-155-53402 sets out the rules for safety practices when assembling and disassembling a crane/derrick.

Tower crane erection and dismantling presents safety hazards.

When the DOSH Compliance Crane Unit documents violations of either WAC 296-155-53402 (1) or WAC 296-155-53402 (17)(a) through (d) on a tower crane erection or dismantling site, the violation will be classified as willful and the penalty will be multiplied by 10.

More Information

For more information about the April 2019 accident, the Department of Labor and Industries investigation, and the citations issued, look to The Seattle Times coverage, including:

Asbestos violations result in large fine

Asbestos safety violations were included in the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) citation against a Bellingham-based property management company. The citation included multiple serious safety and health violations, most of which involve improper handling of asbestos and lead. As a result of the violations, Daylight Properties is facing fines totaling $185,600.

The Violations

L&I has cited the company for 33 serious and six general violations. The highest single fine was $48,000 for failure to obtain a good faith inspection before beginning asbestos removal work. The amount was based on a $600 per day fine over an 80-day time period.

Other violations included not having asbestos removal certification, not having an asbestos “competent person” on site, workers not being certified for asbestos work, and not sufficiently wetting asbestos-containing materials during removal.

Asbestos Removal Requires Safety Measures

“Improper and unsafe lead and asbestos removal is a serious problem in Washington,” said Anne Soiza, L&I’s assistant director for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “This company renovates old buildings which often have asbestos and lead- containing materials. There are laws in place, and we expect them to be followed to prevent exposing workers, tenants and the general public to these hazardous materials.”

Asbestos is extremely hazardous and can cause potentially fatal diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer. Lead exposures have serious and permanent health effects on children and adults. Only a certified contractor who follows the specific related safety and health rules may remove and dispose of lead and asbestos-containing materials.

It’s all-too-common for contractors to conduct asbestos removal activities without the required certification, proper training, processes and equipment. It’s important for homeowners to know that if they plan to hire a contractor to remodel or renovate their home, they are required to get a good faith inspection before work begins. If asbestos is present, the contractor must be certified.

L&I Certifies Asbestos Removal Contractors

L&I has a list of certified contractors. It’s important to refer to that list because some unscrupulous contractors continue to advertise asbestos removal work even after they’ve been cited and decertified.

For some companies that do high-volume work, such as home or property flippers, even large fines are not a sufficient deterrent. Homeowners and property owners should be cautious when hiring contractors.

Daylight Properties has 15 business days to appeal the citations.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citations, please contact L&I Public Affairs at: 360-902-5413.

Safety Violations Matter: Wisconsin Court Reaffirms Basis for Employer Safety Penalties

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer, from The Domer Law Firm.

The extra penalty for employers that ignore safety rules is something not available to injured workers in Washington State, but it is an interesting concept that provides real incentives for safe workplaces.

In most instances, an injured worker cannot sue her employer for a workplace injury. However, if an injury results from an employer’s reckless, intentional, or illegal action, an injured worker can bring a separate claim against the employer directly. An employer’s violation of the Wisconsin state safety statute  or of any Department of Workforce Development (DWD) safety administrative rule which causes a worker’s injury can trigger a 15% increased penalty for the employer (Section 102.57 of the Worker’s Compensation Act). This increased compensation is based on the amount of compenstion paid by the insurance carrier and is capped at $15,000. The big deal is that the safety violation penalty is not paid by the insurance company–it is paid directly from the employer’s pocket (which also makes for increased litigation of these claims!).;

In a win for injured workers, a recent Court of Appeals case (Sohn Manufacturing v. LIRC), decided on August 7, 2013, reaffirmed the ability of the Worker’s Compensation Department to hold employers responsible for unsafe behavior. In the Sohn case, the worker operated a die cutter machine, and the employer instructed her to clean it while the anvil rollers were running. The worker suffered a severe hand injury when her hand was pulled into the machine. A state investigator found an OSHA violation as well as a violation of the state safety statute (Section 101.11). An administrative law judge and the Labor and Industry Review Commission affirmed an award of a safety violation under 102.57 of the worker’s compensation act.

The employer challenged this ruling in court, arguing that the federal OSHA law preempted Wisconsin’s ability to enforce safety procedures under Section 102.57 and that an OSHA investigation cannot form the basis for a state safety violation claim injured workers should be thankful that the Court of Appeals rejected both of these arguments. First, the Court explicitly stated that OSHA does not preempt Wisconsin’s ability to award penalties under Section 102.57, as the safety violation statute is not an enforcement mechanism and OSHA was not intended to impact state worker’s compensation rules. More importantly, the Court indicated that an OSHA violation of a federal workplace safety regulation can be used as basis to demonstrate an employer’s violation of Wisconsin’s state safety statute (Section 101.11).

While the decision was not surprising, it reaffirms the state’s commitment to holding employer’s accountable for safety violation rules under the worker’s compensation system. Workers and practitioners also should remain aware of any OSHA violation found post-injury. A document demonstrating a federal OSHA violation can form the immediate basis for a safety violation under Section 102.57.