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“Washington workplaces just got a whole lot safer”

Businesses fighting L&I citation must now fix hazards during an appeal.

Each year, hundreds of workplace hazards across the state are left uncorrected, exposing many workers to potential dangers while a business owner appeals a citation issued by the Department of Labor and Industries. On April 15, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law that changes this. SB 5068 amends the 1973 Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act  to require businesses to correct serious safety violations — and the hazards they pose — during the appeal of any safety and health citation. Washington is the second state to pass such a law.

“With the signing of SB 5068, Washington workplaces just got a whole lot safer,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council. “Not only will this stop many preventable injuries from happening, I’m convinced it could save lives. Gov. Chris Gregoire, (bill sponsors) Sen. Steve Conway and Rep. Chris Reykdal, and all the legislators who supported this deserve our sincere thanks.”

SB 5068 easily passed the Senate on a bipartisan 47-2 vote, but encountered opposition in the House. The Washington Farm Bureau and some other business groups began lobbying against it, claiming it was unnecessary. After Republicans failed to pass a floor amendment exempting businesses with fewer than 50 employees (which would have exempted more than 90% of all businesses in the state), SB 5068 passed on a 55-41 vote. Every Democrat voted yes, and every Republican voted no.

Under existing rules, if a business appeals an L&I citation involving a serious workplace safety violation, there is no obligation to correct the hazard for which they were cited until the appeal is resolved. This can take months or even years and expose some workers to uncorrected hazards.

For example, one company was cited in 2006 for several serious violations after a worker suffered lead poisoning. The company appealed and did not correct the hazards during the appeal process. The citation was upheld. However, before the company corrected the hazards, a second worker also suffered lead poisoning.

Nationally, a recent analysis by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that in the decade between 1999 and 2009, there were at least 30 appealed cases where a fatality occurred at the same site before the appeal was resolved. In Washington, about 10% of all citations are appealed annually, and while most businesses correct hazards during an appeals process, many do not.

L&I will form a stakeholder group with business and labor representatives and begin work on the rule. Click here to find the latest information as this rule is developed.

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