Washington Contractor Charged With Felony for Trench Collapse Death

January 11, 2018

A Seattle contractor has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of an employee who was killed when a sewer trench collapsed in 2016.

The Seattle Times reports Philip Numrich, the owner of Alki Construction, allegedly violated and ignored safety regulations, leading to the collapse of the trench at a West Seattle home in January 2016 that killed 36-year-old Harold Felton.

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. Felton was killed when the dirt walls of the trench he was working in collapsed and buried him on a job site in West Seattle two years ago.

According to the state’s Department of Labor & Industries, 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.

The agency says it’s believed Numrich is the first employer in state history to face felony charges in connection with an employee’s death.

Numrich was also charged with violation of labor safety regulation with death resulting.

A $20,000 warrant has been issued for his arrest. A message left on Numrich’s business phone was not returned Tuesday.

After a state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) investigation of the death, the state cited and fined the company in 2016 for multiple workplace safety violations, including “willful” violations − the most severe.

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.

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.

Numrich also was fined $51,500 for willful safety violations in the incident. State officials say he appealed and settled, affirming the violations.

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.

“There are times when a monetary penalty isn’t enough,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “This company knew what the safety risks and requirements were, and ignored them. The felony charges show that employers can be held criminally accountable when the tragedy of a preventable workplace death or injury occurs.”

Excavation and trenching are known to be very hazardous, so there are numerous safety requirements that must be followed, including ensuring that sites four-feet deep or more have protective systems in place to prevent the dirt sides from caving in.

Among other requirements, employers must also make sure there are ladders, ramps or other ways available to safely exit an excavated trench. And there must be daily inspections of excavations to monitor changing soil conditions. Alki violated these and other workplace safety requirements.

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