State fines Mukilteo company for exposing roofers to falls

By Nicholas Johnson | Apr 12, 2017

A Mukilteo-based roofing company is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for repeatedly and willfully exposing workers to potential falls.

The state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited America 1st Roofing & Builders with 21 safety violations witnessed by an inspector during four separate inspections between February and March at job sites in Issaquah and Vancouver.

The company, which boasts roughly 200 employees working on various job sites around the state, faces a total of $642,540 in penalties.

“We’re seeing an employer that just keeps repeating the violations over and over, and now it adds up to a huge amount of money,” said Elaine Fischer, who has been with L&I for 28 years, the last 13 of which in the department’s public affairs office.

The company has appealed the violations. The appeals, which are pending, will be heard by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, a separate agency from L&I. Further appeals would go to a superior court judge.

Contacted April 10, President and CEO John Herzog did not provide comment prior to the Beacon’s April 11 press deadline. Afterward, Herzog provided this statement by email.

"America 1st Roofing & Builders, Inc (America 1st) has installed over 25,000 roofing and siding jobs in just the last five years alone. That equates to just under one million high-risk hours of labor in that time period, work performed almost exclusively from heights above 10 feet, which require the use of fall protection equipment. There has not been a single incident of an America 1st employee falling from height without having proper fall arrest equipment in use during that period.

"America 1st has an experience rating with the Department of L&I that is .81 for 2016. This is a reflection of the fact that America 1st claims history is below industry average.

"America 1st takes the safety of its work force very seriously at all times, and disagrees with the Department of L&I’s assessment of the recent citations. America 1st holds the point of view that the recent citations will be vacated upon the conclusion of the appeal process."

During the four separate inspections, L&I discovered eight violations of rules that require proper fall protection equipment and work plans to protect employees working 10 feet off the ground or higher.

In many cases, L&I inspectors saw employees working 11 to 18 feet off the ground. All eight of these violations were cited as willful based on the company’s history and prior knowledge of the hazards and regulations. Each garnered a $66,000 penalty.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or intentional disregard of a hazard or rule.

“It’s unusual to see four inspections of the same company finding the same violations each time,” Fischer said. “It sort of makes you wonder if they take off the fall protection the minute our inspector drives away.”

A ninth violation that was also cited as willful received the maximum legal penalty of $70,000. That citation came after an inspector visited a job site in Issaquah in August and saw a worker on the roof of a three-story home under construction, positioned near the edge of the rooftop, which was 32 feet off the ground. The worker was wearing harness, but it wasn’t connected to an anchor point, Fischer said.

“At 32 feet, you don’t get a second chance when you fall,” she said.

All nine fall protection violations were cited as repeat-serious, meaning the company had been cited for the same violation at least once in the past three years. A serious violation exists when there’s a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

“Seven construction workers fell to their deaths last year in our state,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

“Falls are the leading cause of construction worker deaths and hospitalizations, and yet they’re completely preventable by using proper fall protection and following safe work practices.”

The inspections that led to these citations began in August 2016. Over the last three years, the company has been inspected seven times and has been cited with violations in six of them, including 14 repeat-serious violations, at least six of which were violations of fall protection rules.

According to public records about the company’s inspection history on the L&I website dating back to April 2011, the company was cited several times in 2011 for violating fall protection rules.

Along with the fall protection violations, the company was cited for unsafe ladder use; not ensuring walk-around safety inspections weekly and at the beginning of each job; not requiring hard hats when working under overhead hazards; scaffold safety; not having an accident prevention program; and for not having someone with first-aid training at the worksite.

“You just hope that they get the message,” Fischer said. “We know they are capable of making the corrections because they have done so at the time our inspector was on site.

“We just keep seeing the same things happening over and over again. It’s very sad.”

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