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April 21, 2004

Seattle Fire Department cited for three workplace-safety violations

TUMWATER — The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) today issued citations to the Seattle Fire Department for three workplace-safety violations. The citations carry a combined penalty of $63,000.

One of the citations, stemming from an L&I investigation of a training drill at Station 25 in September 2003 during which a firefighter suffered heat exhaustion, alleges:

  1. A repeat "serious" violation with an associated penalty of $10,000 for failing to develop a formal accident prevention program tailored to the needs of operations personnel in warm weather working conditions. This is a repeat violation because the fire department was cited in March 2001 following a similar incident. ("Serious" violations exist where a violation of a safety standard is likely to result in serious injury or death.)
  2. A "willful" violation with an associated penalty of $50,000 for failing to implement accident prevention program procedures for warm weather working conditions for operations personnel. This violation was determined to be willful in nature because the fire department failed to implement procedures for safeguarding its employees, despite being aware that the weather conditions required it to do so. ("Willful" violations exist if an employer intentionally violated safety or health rules, was plainly indifferent to the rules, or knew that a violation was occurring and took no steps to correct it. Penalties for willful violations are first calculated as serious and then multiplied by ten.)

A separate L&I investigation was prompted by a complaint in October 2003. The complaint alleged that the fire department's safety officer was directed to stop his investigation into whether there was a relationship between workplace conditions and a number of cancer cases among people who worked at Station 31.

This investigation led L&I to issue a citation to the fire department alleging a "serious" violation for inhibiting the work of the safety investigator, and assessing a $3,000 penalty.

"Fire department safety officers must be free to pursue safety investigations without intervention from superiors," said Michael Silverstein, L&I assistant director for workplace safety. "This independence is essential to a successful workplace injury and illness prevention program."

The Seattle Fire Department has 15 business days to appeal.

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For media information: Steve Pierce, L&I, 360-902-5412 or piet235@LNI.wa.gov

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