Determining the Severity of WISHA Violations

The Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973 (“WISHA”) is a statute that empowered the Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”) to create and enforce safety and health regulations for nearly all employers and employees in the state.  WISHA was the first fully-operational state safety and health program approved by the federal government.  Under WISHA, L&I may conduct investigations into employers that it believes to be in violation of a safety of health statute or regulation, and issue a citation.  These citations are posted at or near the place of violation, and also are posted online as a matter of public record.

L&I’s citations can be classified as non-serious / general, serious, willful, repeat serious violation, or failure to abate a serious violation.

  • Non-Serious / General Violation:  A non-serious or general violation occurs if the conditions could not result in a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm.  However, L&I may group two or more non-serious violations to form a single serious violation if the existence of the combined violation creates a condition that could result in a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm.
  • Serious Violation:  A serious violation occurs if the conditions could result in a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm.  Additionally, the employer must know of or be able to discover the violation with the exercise of reasonable diligence.
  • Willful Violation:  A willful violation occurs if the employer voluntarily acts with either with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the safety laws or regulations.
  • Repeat Serious Violation:  A repeat serious violation occurs when the employer has been formerly cited for a substantially similar type of hazard.
  • Failure to Abate a Serious Violation:  A case of failure to abate a serious violation occurs if the original violation becomes a final order, the condition on reinsertion is identical, and the condition on reinsertion violates WISHA.

The level of severity helps determine the amount of the civil penalty assessed.  For example, the civil penalty for a “serious” violation cannot exceed $7,000 for each violation.  For more information on how civil penalties are calculated, click here.  

Comment:  Depending on the severity of the violation, a citation by L&I can have a significant effect on a general contractor’s safety record.  Contractors with poor safety records may be forced to pay more in industrial insurance premiums and, perhaps more importantly, having a poor safety record may impact a contractor’s ability to procure work in the future.  Fortunately, even if a contractor is cited with a “serious” or “willful” violation, it may appeal L&I’s decision.  In the past, we have been successful in having violations decreased to “general / non-serious” or dropped all together.

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