criminal charges in trenching accident

Construction Company Owner Charged with Manslaughter Over Worker's Trench Death

Jan. 9, 2018
For the first time, an employer in Washington is facing felony manslaughter charges following the death of a worker in an unsecured trench.

Phillip Numrich, the owner of Seattle-area Alki Construction, was charged Jan. 5 with felony manslaughter following an investigation of the death of an employee in a collapsed trench two years ago.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed second-degree manslaughter charges against Numrich 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.

“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.”

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. The original fines totaled $51,500.

The company had dug trenches next to a Seattle home to replace a sewer line. The trench where the worker died was seven-feet deep and just under two-feet wide. There was no system in place to prevent all sides from caving in.

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 also must make sure there are ladders, ramps or other ways available to safely exit an excavated trench. In addition, there must be daily inspections of excavations to monitor changing soil conditions. Alki violated these and other workplace safety requirements, according to L&I.

"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."

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!