FOLLOWUP: State cites contractor in West Seattle trench-collapse death

(WSB photo from massive SFD response on January 26th)

Seven months ago, at a jobsite in West Seattle, 36-year-old Harold Felton became the first person killed in a trenching-related incident in our state in seven years. Today, the state Department of Labor and Industries announced it has cited the contractor for whom he was working, and is seeking $51,500 in fines. Here’s the announcement:

A Seattle contractor is facing more than $50,000 in fines for safety violations that led to the death of a construction worker last January. Harold Felton was killed when the dirt walls of the trench he was working in collapsed and buried him. Rescuers were unable to dig him out in time to save his life.

The state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited Alki Construction LLC for one willful violation, five serious and one general in connection with the incident last January. The fines total $51,500.

The company had dug trenches next to a Seattle home to replace a sewer line. The trench where the worker died was seven-feet deep and just under two-feet wide. There was no system in place to prevent all sides from caving in.

Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction jobs. Cave-ins on these jobs kill two dozen or more workers each year in the U.S. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car and dirt walls can collapse suddenly without any warning, burying the victims instantly.

Cave-ins are far from rare. On May 3 in Boise, Idaho, two workers were killed in a trench collapse while working on a sewer project. On May 5 in Portland, Ore., a worker was killed while installing a sewer line in an 11-foot trench. There have been similar incidents in other states this summer.

Employers must ensure that adequate protections are in place to prevent cave-ins, and workers should never enter an unprotected trench, even for a quick task.

Alki Construction was cited for a “willful” violation with a penalty of $35,000 for not ensuring that trenches and excavations four-feet deep or more had a protective system in place to prevent the dirt sides from caving in.

The company was also cited for five serious violations:

*Alki Construction did not have a formal accident prevention program tailored to the needs of the operation and the type of hazards involved in trenching and excavation work ($3,500).

*There was no ladder, ramp or other safe means of exiting the excavated trench ($3,500).

*Sidewalks and structures that were undermined were not supported to protect employees from possible collapse ($3,000).

*Excavated dirt and other materials were placed less than two feet from the edge of the unprotected trench, where they could fall into the trench where employees were working ($3,000).

*There were no daily inspections of the excavations to monitor changing soil conditions ($3,500).

One general violation was cited for not ensuring walk-around safety inspections were documented.

A willful violation is one where L&I finds evidence of plain indifference or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation is one where there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

As a result of the violations, Alki Construction LLC has been identified as a severe violator and is subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

Visit L&I’s Trenching & Excavation topic page to learn more about trenching safety.

As reported here on January 26th, a major rescue response was called to the scene in the 3000 block of 36th SW before 11 am that day. By 11:30, though, it had shifted from a rescue attempt to a recovery operation. As we reported at the time, the contractor had no previous record of violations.

P.S. Following up with L&I, we’ve learned that although the news release about the citation was published (and is dated) today, the department actually issued the citation in July and delivered it August 20th, so the deadline for an appeal is September 12th.

18 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: State cites contractor in West Seattle trench-collapse death"

  • Deb September 1, 2016 (3:25 pm)

    WSB –  Thank you for reporting on the follow up from this tragic accident. Mr. Felton and his family continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.  

  • AMD September 1, 2016 (3:35 pm)

    $51,500 for a life.  What a tragedy.

    • Joe Szilagyi September 2, 2016 (8:23 am)

      That’s the state fine. These guys are now open to a big civil suit.

  • d September 1, 2016 (3:41 pm)

    A huge slap in the face to Harold and his family that is not even close to enough this man has died and his child is without a father his wife without  a husband and his mom and dad with no son now and there find far less than the supervisors yearly wage that’s why this will continue to happen over and over and over again..!!!

  • newnative September 1, 2016 (4:06 pm)

    The sheer number of flagrant, “willful” violations contrasted with the lack of any previous record of violations suggests to me that there was no supervision over this company.  I wonder if there will be more oversight across the board.  I wonder if there is a problem with reporting violations?  

  • Deb September 1, 2016 (4:09 pm)

    Can the fines still be collected if a company has gone out of business?

  • M September 1, 2016 (4:33 pm)

    D- His wife will almost certainly get a widow’s pension through LNI.  The $50k fine does not go to the family directly.  It’s LNI’s way of punishing the employer for not following proper safety protocols.  LNI will most likely end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state insurance fund for monthly benefits paid to the widow over the course of her lifetime.  Source:  I’ve worked at a WA worker’s comp firm.

    Such a sad scenario.  My condolences to the widow’s family.  

  • dsa September 1, 2016 (4:51 pm)

    L & I needs more inspectors.  Contractors take short cuts because they can and are not likely to get caught.  That stiffens the competition, forcing more to do so.  Watch the roofers.  They may have their safety lanyards on, but “forget” to tie off.  It looks safe though. 

  • A. September 1, 2016 (6:09 pm)

    This is not a wrongful death settlement, this is the state fining the contractor for safety violations. This is by no means punishing the business for the death on their dime, this is punishing the business for not have safety procedures in place. A separate criminal or civil trial would be needed to compensate the family for the loss of Mr. Felton.

  • AJP September 1, 2016 (6:12 pm)

    Wow, seven feet deep and no shoring whatsoever. Sickening. Look down that list, absolutely nothing done to keep workers safe. This incident was completely preventable. My heart goes out to his family! 

  • d September 1, 2016 (6:38 pm)

    Oh so its all good then I think not the supervisors should be held criminally responsible until that happens you’ll see employees dieing due to negligence and willful neglect till the end of time 

  • JAH September 1, 2016 (8:19 pm)

    Correct, the company received a fine of $51k, which is not a payment to the widow and her family. Donations were set up and a state check is cut each month to go to the widow and a child who will never grow up to know her father, the total of which will equal a fraction of the cost it will take to raise a child to the age of 18. $250,000 is the rough estimate it costs, not including the cost of college or other higher learning to be able to earn a decent wage as an adult.

    The child’s first birthday will be coming up soon, she barely got to know her father for 6 months, most of which Harold spent working as hard as he could for a family on a single income and spending every moment he had away from work with his wife and new-born child that he loved so very much.

    The amount of money levied against Alki Construction is a drop in the bucket when compared to the cost of raising a child, even more so when factoring in limited funds. This was a tragedy for everyone involved, not in the least Harold’s company and the owner, who will have to live with the fact he caused the death of his best friend for the rest of his life. I pray daily for everyone who was touched by this to find their peace and to find a way to overcome the tragedy.

  • WSince86 September 1, 2016 (10:58 pm)

    Sad, sad, sad, in so many ways. Condolences to all. 

  • Friend September 2, 2016 (7:30 am)

    Prayers for the family and the friends of Harold. (Including those he worked with who have no doubt been scarred by this horrific event). Tragedies happen, and that’s what this was.  There was no ill intention here.  There was a mistake.  Any of the men working there could have died that day.  Sounds like they took for granted that they’d be okay without safety precautions.  We’ve all done it at one point or another: climbing an unsupported ladder, driving off without a seatbelt, etc…   I hope businesses and neighbors around the area take this lesson to heart and ensure safety practices are followed.  And, I hope that those that wish to chime in do so with compassion.  Harold’s death was a huge loss for everyone involved.  Sad.

  • ws commuter September 2, 2016 (11:18 am)

    L&I (Labor & Industries … not “LNI”)will pay compensation’ unfortunately, it will be far less than could be recovered in a wrongful death action.  The purpose of L&I insurance, which all employers are required to pay, is to immunize the employer against claims from employees.  The family unfortunately cannot go after his employer – they could sue another company, if any were involved, which did have some role in this tragedy.  

  • JanS September 2, 2016 (11:56 am)

    actually, as someone who bills Labor and Industries occasionally, the do use LNI…even in ther website address. It’s just a shortcut..

  • Deb September 2, 2016 (1:23 pm)

    I heard that Alki Construction LLC went out of business after the January accident. I’m wondering how do fines get paid to L&I (or LNI) when a business shuts down?  Are liens placed on personal property?  Or does the business owner get to start anew? 

  • Jenna Felton September 2, 2016 (7:21 pm)

    As Harold’s wife, I am deeply touched by the support of our community. Thank you for the kind words and prayers. Everyday is a major struggle, but never impossible.

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