A contractor’s duty to provide a safe workplace includes a duty to comply with safety regulations about worksite conditions, worker equipment, and work methods. Those regulations are enforced by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”), which has authority to inspect worksites and to impose fines and stop work orders.
In a recent case, the State of Washington determined that a contractor’s practices were so unsafe that L&I fines were insufficient. The King County prosecutor has charged the owner of the company with manslaughter in the second degree, a felony, defined as follows:
A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when, with criminal negligence, he or she causes the death of another person.
RCW 9A.32.070(1). This appears to be the first time that an individual owner of a contractor has faced a felony charge arising from a breach of workplace safety. The charge arises from a project in Seattle where a worker died while working in a trench. The owner of the construction company, who supervised the work, violated a number of regulations relating to trench work. A recent news article provides further details.
Here is a link to a statement from L&I about the case.
Most contractors already recognize the need for a thorough safety program, even on small jobs. The criminal charge outlined above has raised the stakes even higher for those who want to cut corners.