Businesses fighting L&I citation must now fix hazards during an appeal

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TUMWATER – 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

Today, Governor Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law that changes this. Senate Bill 5068, approved by state legislators last week, amends the 1973 Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA). The bill requires businesses to correct serious safety violations - and the hazards they pose - during the appeal of any safety and health citation.

"This change to our state worker safety laws offers significant improvement for worker safety," said Michael Silverstein, assistant director, 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."

Under existing rules, if a business appeals an L&I citation involving a serious workplace safety violation, there is no obligation to correct the hazard for which they were cited until the appeal is resolved. This can take months or even years and expose some workers to uncorrected hazards.

For example, one company was cited in 2006 for several serious violations after a worker suffered lead poisoning. The company appealed and did not correct the hazards during the appeal process. The citation was upheld. However, before the company corrected the hazards, a second worker also suffered lead poisoning.

Nationally, a recent analysis by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that in the decade between 1999 and 2009, there were at least 30 appealed cases where a fatality occurred at the same site before the appeal was resolved.

In Washington, about 10 percent of all citations are appealed annually, and while most businesses correct hazards during an appeals process, many do not. Credit is due to state Sen. Steve Conway and Rep. Chris Reykdal, who both recognized the system left some workers unprotected and sponsored this bill as a way to correct the problem.

While the bill requires employers to correct hazards during an appeal, they can seek a stay to the requirement. Under the bill such requests will receive an expedited review.

L&I will form a stakeholder group with business and labor representatives and begin work on the rule. Visit www.Lni.wa.gov/Safety/Rules/WhatsNew/ to find the latest information as this rule is developed.

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Media contact: Hector Castro, L&I, 360-902-6043

Broadcast version:

A new bill signed by Governor Chris Gregoire today will require businesses in Washington state to fix workplace hazards even when they appeal a citation from the state Department of Labor & Industries. Under existing rules, a business appealing a citation has no obligation to correct hazards during the appeals process. This left hundreds of workplace hazards uncorrected each year. L&I will now put together a group of stakeholders to develop the rules to implement this new bill. The process could take as long as nine months or more. Visit www dot Lni dot wa dot gov for more information.

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