The roof of a woodworking warehouse in the Seattle suburb of Kent collapsed due to heavy rains in the area. According to an article from KHQ News, nobody was hurt by the roof collapse, which was due to drains in the corner of the warehouse being unable to deal with the sudden increase in rain. After a building inspector examined the building and the roof of the warehouse, he allowed the workers to resume operations in the unaffected parts of the building. It is fortunate that no one was hurt by the collapse, but this incident is a good reminder that employers must maintain a safe workplace or face workplace investigations from safety officials or injury claims from employees.
Washington Workplace Safety Laws
Under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (“WISHA”), employers have a duty to provide their employees with a safe workplace that is free from known or recognized dangers that either have caused or are likely to cause serious injury or death. Failure to maintain a safe workplace can lead to civil penalties of up to $7,000. For willful or repeated violation of safety standards, employers can be fined up to $70,000. Employers can also face criminal penalties including a fine of up to $100,000 or six months in jail for false statements related to workplace safety or for willful safety violations that lead to the death of an employee.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”) has set forth rules that help employers understand and satisfy their duties under WISHA. For example, maintaining a workplace that is free from known dangers includes:
-Eliminating all known hazards that could lead to serious injury or death. Recognized hazards are those that are commonly known in the employer’s industry, that the employer knew or should have -known about, or that any reasonable person would have known about.
-Provide and use methods to keep the workplace safe. This includes workplace procedures, safety devices, and other safeguards. Employers should make sure that they do not remove or interfere with the use of any of these methods.
-Prohibiting workers from going into or staying in an unsafe workplace.
-Constructing the building so that it is safe. This rule applies to employers, as well as the owners and renters of property that is used as a workplace.
-Forbidding employees from using alcohol or narcotic drugs at the workplace.
-Prohibiting employees from using unsafe tools or equipment.
Here, it does not appear that there has been a violation of WISHA. The roof collapse was due to a sudden downpour, and it probably could not have been predicted. In addition, the building inspector allowed employees to enter the unaffected parts of the building, indicating that the rest of the workplace is still safe. However, if the employer’s negligence had caused the roof collapse, or if the employer had allowed workers to enter the building while it was unsafe, that could have been a violation of WISHA.
Workplace safety is an important issue. According to L&I, there are more than 250,000 workers’ compensation claims for workplace injuries every year. In addition, there are an average of two deaths each week due to job-related incidents. If you have a question about workplace safety, feel free to contact an employment lawyer.