Monday, April 18, 2011

Saving lives. Period.

Here at the capital, it’s sometimes difficult to see or quantify the impact a certain bill will have once it’s signed into law.

Not so with one signed into law this past Friday. This one will save lives. Period.

The problem: 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 & Industries (L&I). Abatement of serious violations is automatically put on hold the moment an employer appeals. Some remain uncorrected for months or years. This loophole had left workers vulnerable to serious harm or even death.

In Washington, about 10 percent of all citations are appealed annually, and while most businesses correct hazards during an appeals process, many do not.

Senate Bill 5068, says when a business is cited for a serious or willful violation that could result in serious injury or death, they still have the right to appeal the ruling, but they must fix it. Period.

Rep. Chris Reykdal sponsored the House version of the bill and worked closely with House members Tami Green and Mike Sells, as well as stakeholders and L&I experts, to protect workers and make sure workplace hazards aren’t neglected.

Joining the lawmakers were steelworkers from the Tesoro refinery, making the trip down to Olympia to celebrate the bill’s passage. The refinery was the scene of a tragic explosion last April, which resulted in the death of seven workers.

L&I’s investigation revealed that Tesoro, despite warnings, “disregarded a host of workplace safety regulations, continued to operate failing equipment for years, postponed maintenance, inadequately tested for potentially catastrophic damage and failed to adequately protect their workers from significant risk of injury and death.”

The agency cited the company for 39 willful violations. A willful violation is a category of violation where an employer knowingly violates a rule and is plainly indifferent to correcting it, while a serious violation is one involving an instance where there is a substantial probability of serious injury or death.

While no one can say for sure whether those deaths would have been prevented, this new law certainly means lives will be saved in the future. Period.

More information about L&I’s implementation of SB 5068 can be found here.