Spokane Journal of Business

L&I to boost penalties for workplace violations

State agency says it must rise to federal minimums

  • Print Article

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries is proposing to increase penalties for serious workplace safety violations to make them more in line with federal standards.

The move, however, could disproportionately harm small businesses that make up most of the businesses in Eastern Washington, says Dalena Tripplet, director of safety services at Spokane-based Associated Industries, a nonprofit employer membership group.

L&I is airing the proposal here today, June 19, in a 9 a.m. to noon meeting at the Enduris training facility, at 1510 S. Technology Blvd., on the West Plains. L&I enforces workplace safety issues through its Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

In Washington state, the average penalty for a serious workplace-safety violation in fiscal 2013 was $761, just over half of the OSHA standard of $1,447. A serious workplace violation is a safety violation that could cause serious injury or death of an employee, says Olympia-based L&I spokeswoman Elaine Fischer.

OSHA, which last updated its formulas for penalty calculations in 2010, contends the minimum average penalty should be $1,085 to be within the agency’s allowable range.

“States that have their own (workplace-safety) programs are required to be at least as effective as OSHA and must adopt the same or stricter measures in order to be in compliance,” Fischer says.

At minimum, OSHA requires states to set penalties within 25 percent of the three-year national average, she says.

Failure to meet the federally mandated penalties could result in the loss of federal funding, which in turn could result in OSHA taking over enforcement of workplace safety in the state, Fischer says.

Tripplet says the proposal will affect small businesses most because penalties imposed for safety violations at larger businesses in Washington meet OSHA standards.

For instance, the average penalty for safety violations at businesses with more than 250 employees in fiscal 2013 was $2,055, well over OSHA’s minimum allowable average of $1,817 for large businesses.

“Small mom-and-pop shops are really going to hurt,” Tripplet says. “We’re hoping if we get enough stakeholders to voice their opinions, it’s going to have a bigger impact.”

Tripplet questions whether raising penalties alone will increase safety.

“We’re one of three states that has the lowest fatality rates,” she says. “Raising penalties is not necessarily going to help.”

Another meeting is scheduled for June 24 in Tumwater, Wash.

Tripplet says she expects another round of public hearings will be scheduled in August, followed by a notice of proposed rulemaking in October.

Mike McLean
  • Mike McLean

  • Email Mike McLean
  • Follow RSS feed for Mike McLean

Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list