Washington State Law Requires Abatement During Appeals

A new law in Washington state requires employers to correct serious safety violations during any appeal of a citation issued by the state's Department of Labor & Industries. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed that measure, Senate Bill 5068, into law April 15.

The new law amends the 1973 Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). "This change to our state worker safety laws offers significant improvement for worker safety," said Michael Silverstein, assistant director of the L&I Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "This allows us to ensure that hazards are corrected even as we continue discussions with employers who may disagree with our citations."

Existing rules impose no obligation on a business cited for a serious workplace safety violation to correct the hazard until the appeal is resolved, which can take months or years. L&I said one company was cited in 2006 for several serious violations after a worker suffered lead poisoning. The company appealed but did not correct the hazards during the appeal process, and although the citation was upheld, a second worker suffered lead poisoning before corrections were made, according to the agency.

Federal OSHA has the same problem. An OSHA analysis identified at last 30 appealed cases from 1999 to 2009 where a fatality occurred at the same site before the appeal was resolved, OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels testified before a congressional subcommittee in March 2010.

In Washington state, about 10 percent of all citations are appealed each year, and L&I says most businesses correct hazards during the appeals process. It notes businesses can seek a stay in the law's requirement to correct hazards during an appeal, and those requests will receive an expedited review. L&I said it will establish a stakeholders' group with business and labor representatives and begin work on the rule implementing the new law. Visit www.Lni.wa.gov/Safety/Rules/WhatsNew/ to find the latest information as this rule is developed.

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