‘A sharp kick in the wallet’: Lake Stevens to pay safety fines

The city initially appealed many alleged workplace violations. Mayor Brett Gailey pledged to do better.

Lake Stevens Mayor Brett Gailey.

Lake Stevens Mayor Brett Gailey.

LAKE STEVENS — After initially appealing many of the workplace safety violations cited against its public works department, the city of Lake Stevens has agreed to pay the fines handed down by the state.

On Friday, the city paid $16,200 to the state Department of Labor and Industries.

Liz Brown, business agent for Teamsters 763, the union representing employees in the city’s public works department, said she’s “glad the city bit the bullet and paid the fine.”

“Sometimes it takes a sharp kick in the wallet to really bring the lesson home to an employer,” she said.

Mayor Brett Gailey said he’s disappointed in the outcome of L&I’s investigation, but “there’s obviously places that we can get better.”

Last week, Gailey made a late pitch to L&I officials to consider using the fines to fund the city’s training.

“We believe it would be best if the penalties paid went to the improvement of worker safety, a goal we all support and respect,” he wrote in a Nov. 5 letter to the state agency.

That’s not something L&I typically does, spokesperson Tim Church said.

“In general, no, L&I does not provide funds for training or safety improvements,” he told The Daily Herald. Providing adequate training is “part of the cost of being an employer,” he said.

The state agency sometimes pays for an employer’s safety initiatives that go “over and above” existing requirements, Church said.

Last spring, L&I officials found dozens of issues during an inspection of the public works department, according to notes and emails obtained by The Herald through a public records request. For example, employees entered confined stormwater vaults without a required permit or adequate training. And those assigned to clean up parks — where they sometimes handled needles — were not adequately educated on bloodborne diseases.

Of the 20 alleged violations by the city’s public works department, 13 were deemed “serious,” where work conditions put employees at risk of death or serious harm, according to state standards.

The city appealed 10 of the serious violations and received a $3,600 reduction in total penalties. Gailey said the city may have appealed L&I’s decision again if the appeal process would not have cost more taxpayer dollars.

The mayor has pledged to support the public works department in adhering to state safety regulations and eventually getting accredited by the American Public Works Association.

In a budget presentation to the council Oct. 26, he named getting that accreditation as his No. 1 budget priority.

Earlier this fall, Gailey said the city contracted a retired Washington Cities Insurance Authority boardmember to help get the city’s policies and procedures on par with state requirements.

By January, the city is slated to have a new risk manager.

According to the job description, the risk manager will work closely with the HR director to oversee a “comprehensive Risk Management program,” including developing and administering safety and accident prevention programs, and serving as the city’s coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act and emergency management.

Gailey said this is a “critical” position for the city.

The city is also launching a new digital policy management system that will keep the city on top of required training and necessary policy updates.

Brown, the union’s business agent, said she knows “the fine stings.”

“But the sting is meant to be a reminder that every day when people report to work … they have a right to expect to go home at the end of the day safe and sound,” she said. “That’s what the sting is meant to convey and I hope the city retains that.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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