Olympia, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) - Criminal manslaughter charges filed on Friday against the owner of a Seattle–area construction firm make a clear statement about the responsibility of companies to keep workers safe on the job, and the serious consequences if they knowingly don't.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office filed second-degree manslaughter charges against Phillip Numrich, the owner of Alki Construction, in connection with the death of Harold Felton. Felton was killed when the dirt walls of the trench he was working in collapsed and buried him on a job site in West Seattle two years ago.
This is the first time a Washington employer has faced felony charges for a workplace fatality.
After a state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation of the death, the state cited and fined the company in 2016 for multiple workplace safety violations, including "willful" violations − the most severe.
"There are times when a monetary penalty isn't enough," said L&I Director Joel Sacks. "This company knew what the safety risks and requirements were, and ignored them. The felony charges show that employers can be held criminally accountable when the tragedy of a preventable workplace death or injury occurs."
Excavation and trenching are known to be very hazardous, so there are numerous safety requirements that must be followed, including ensuring that sites four-feet deep or more have protective systems in place to prevent the dirt sides from caving in.
Among other requirements, employers must also make sure there are ladders, ramps or other ways available to safely exit an excavated trench. And there must be daily inspections of excavations to monitor changing soil conditions. Alki violated these and other workplace safety requirements.
"A workplace death affects families forever," Sacks added. "When workplace safety and health laws are followed on the job, nearly every incident like this can be prevented. When they're ignored, the results are often disastrous and irreversible."
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