A Seattle-area contractor was sentenced to 45 days in jail over his role in a 2016 trench collapse that killed one of his employees, Harold Felton, according to a March 4 Washington Department of Labor & Industries press release. It is "extremely rare" for an employer to face jail time as a result of a worker death, the release said.
Phillip Numrich, owner of Alki Construction, was sentenced following a decision from the State Supreme Court that affirmed King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg was within rights to prosecute Numrich on charges of second-degree manslaughter, which is a felony. Numrich instead agreed to plead guilty to attempted reckless endangerment, according to the release.
Felton, 36, was working in a seven-foot-deep trench at a home in West Seattle when the dirt walls collapsed, burying him under more than 6,000 pounds of mud and sand, according to the February L&I release. Prior to Felton's death, there were several consecutive days of rain, and L&I claims that Numrich allowed work to continue in the trench despite knowing the safety hazards. The investigation found that Numrich only brought enough shoring equipment to protect two of the four sides from a cave-in, and neglected to provide a ladder or ramp as required.
"The nature of the work is dangerous," Numrich told investigators, according to the release. "There is nothing safe about working with type C soil."
Alki Construction has since gone out of business, and Numrich couldn't be reached by Construction Dive for comment.
In addition to the jail time, Numrich will also serve an 18-month probation that limits his contact with the Felton family and the type of work his company can perform, according to the release.
"He had a responsibility to protect his employees. Numrich knew the safety rules and chose to ignore them," said Joel Sacks, Department of Labor & Industries director, in the release. "The court's decision sends a message to business owners that they can be held criminally accountable and face felony charges if they knowingly fail to protect their workers."
Alki Construction also pleaded guilty to violations of the Washington Industrial Safety & Health Act and will pay a $25,000 fine, according to the release. This penalty is in addition to the $51,500 fine that was originally levied on the company following Felton's death in 2016.