Seattle Contractor Charged With Felony Over Trench Collapse Death

Officials say it’s the first time in state history that an employer has faced felony charges in connection with an employee’s death

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The potential for loss of life should be reason enough for contractors to always practice all the proper trench safety measures. But a recent story out of Seattle shows the other ramifications that can come out of playing it loose with trench safety protocols — criminal charges.

Last week, Seattle contractor Phillip Numrich was charged with second-degree manslaughter for allegedly violating and ignoring safety regulations, leading to the collapse of a sewer trench at a home in January 2016 that killed a 36-year-old employee. According to The Seattle Times, Numrich is believed to be the first employer in Washington state history to face felony charges in connection with an employee’s death.

Harold Fenton died Jan. 26, 2016, when he was buried in the cave-in of a 10-foot-deep trench while re-connecting a new sewer line to a residence. Rescue workers could not get to him in time. It took several hours to pull his body from the trench. In July 2016, Numrich was fined $51,500 for willful safety violations by the state Department of Labor & Industries. He appealed and entered a settlement agreement, and since then, he has been making payments on a reduced fine of $25,750, according to The Seattle Times report. But King County prosecutors decided to pursue felony charges, which the Department of Labor & Industries supports.

“There are times when a monetary penalty isn’t enough,” Joel Sacks, Department of Labor & Industries director, says in a news release regarding the charges. “This company knew what the safety risks and requirements were and ignored them.”

According to the charging documents, Numrich was the only “competent person” on the work site but was away buying lunch when the trench collapse occurred. Numrich says in a voluntary interview that the soil at the site was “Type C,” the least-stable type that requires the most rigorous shoring. The trench wasn’t properly shored, and the charges also state that the trench was left open for 10 days — beyond the usual two to three days. It rained several times during that period, making the unstable soil even more unstable. Furthermore, Numrich witnessed Felton using a hand-held vibrating tool in the trench, creating more soil instability, but didn’t provide a warning. He instead left the site to buy lunch and was still away when the trench collapse occurred.

Source: The Seattle Times


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