Recent Fatal Falls Prompt Washington State Agency to Issue Hazard Alert

The state of Washington's Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is blaming the deaths of two workers in King County on a an alleged lack of "relatively simple" precautions on rooftop work sites, and is alerting contractors in the state to the dangers of unguarded openings.

In August 2004, a worker on a commercial construction site died after falling 29 feet through a skylight opening. In September 2004, a residential construction worker suffered fatal injuries after he fell 15 feet through an unguarded roof opening.

The recent deaths prompted the agency to issue a hazard alert to roofing and construction contractors reminding them of the dangers of unguarded openings. Washington state safety regulations require that skylights and roof and floor openings be properly covered or guarded at all times. The hazard alert is on display at the agency's Web site at http://www.lni.wa.gov/safety/basics/HazAlerts.

"When people are focused on their work, it's easy to lose track of something they know is there, such as a hole in the roof," said Michael Wood, acting head of L&I's workplace safety program. "That's why it's so important to be relentless about safety. A few minutes of work to cover the roof openings would have sent those guys home from work that day alive and well. Warnings to everyone to 'be careful' just don't get the job done."

Since 1998, eight construction workers in the state have died after falling through unguarded skylights and roof and floor openings.

Four King County contractors were cited for safety hazards related to the two deaths that occurred last year. All four companies were cited for exposing workers to fall hazards. They are:

  • CDK Construction Services of Duvall, cited for one willful, one serious and one general violation for a total penalty of $55,000.
  • Teague Welding and Pipe Service of Renton, cited for two willful, four serious and two general violations for a total penalty of $53,100.
  • Bruce's Roofing, LLC, of Enumclaw, cited for one repeat-serious and one serious violation for a total penalty of $18,000.
  • Elko Construction of Bellevue, cited for three serious and two general violations for a total penalty of $6,500.

In Washington state, a "serious" violation is one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from an existing condition, and "willful" is cited when the department finds an employer intentionally or knowingly violated rules or knew that a violation was occurring and was plainly indifferent to correcting it. Penalties are adjusted based on the size of the employer, past history and good faith efforts to comply with regulations.

Three of the contractors have appealed the citations.

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