The state of Washington has charged the owner of a Seattle construction company with second-degree manslaughter for the death of a worker killed in a trench collapse accident.
The charges against Phillip Numrich, the owner of Alki Construction, could signal the state’s intentions to get tougher on employers whose willful negligence puts the lives of workers at risk. According to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I), the action marks the first time a workplace fatality has prompted a felony charge in Washington state.
Mr. Numrich also faces a gross misdemeanor charge for violating a labor safety regulation with death resulting. He was arraigned on Jan. 18.
L&I said that Harold Felton, the worker who was killed in the trench collapse, was part of a crew digging trenches to replace a sewer line next to a West Seattle home in January 2016. The un-shored trench, which was seven feet deep and just two feet wide, collapsed on top of the worker, burying him under tons of soil.
According to the state, Alki Construction took none of the required measures to prevent a trench collapse and ensure the worker’s safety.
“The evidence shows an extraordinary level of negligence surrounding this dangerous worksite,” Mindy Young, King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney, said in a Jan. 8 press release.
“There are times when a monetary penalty isn’t enough,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks in a statement about the trench collapse.”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.”
In addition to the criminal charges, Washington Labor & Industries cited and fined the company $50,000 in 2016 for multiple workplace safety violations, including “willful” violations − the most severe.
Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction jobs. Trench collapses on excavation and construction job sites kill two dozen or more workers each year in the U.S. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car – about 3,000 pounds, and dirt walls of a trench can collapse suddenly without any warning, burying the victims instantly.