The state Auditor’s Office released two reports on whistle-blower complaints against the Department of Labor and Industries on Monday, and in both the investigators found lax enforcement by state safety inspectors. In one 2010 complaint the finding was that an improper governmental action had occurred, but in the other it was not clear if the overlooking of safety violations on job sites was intentional or an oversight.
In the first audit – linked here – Auditor Troy Kelley's investigators said a safety-compliance inspector in King County “failed to cite several serious safety violations,” and that a supervisor signed off some of the inspector’s reports without reading them. Some reports lacked information or contained errors, auditors wrote.
The inspections reviewed by auditors included a machine shop where safety rails were not installed, a machine shop and a roofing job where railings also were not in place.
L&I told auditors it “does not generally disagree with the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) results, but would like to point out that this investigation was limited in scope and the results do not reflect a systemic problem with the statewide operation of L&I Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).”
L&I also said that after getting an “assignment” in October 2010 from the Governor’s Office it did its own fact finding and reached similar findings about the inspections. But L&I also did a spot check at the machine shop that identified safety hazards and were “abated” by the employer.
Among its many responses, L&I also took steps in its Region 3 operations (serving Pierce, Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam counties) to retrain staff on compliance and inspection policies and procedures.
The second complaint, dated July 2010, dealt with the Region 3 office and alleged failures by safety inspectors and their supervisors. Auditors looked at 12 injury-related inspections done by one employee in 2009-10, finding that only four cited violations of safety rules and that in three cases “the inspector did not interview the injured worker. In six of the inspections, he stated in the report summary that he had spoken with the injured worker. Three of the inspections included injured worker statements provided by the employer.”
The worker’s supervisor told auditors she was surprised the subject had not interviewed injured workers.
But auditors fell short of finding wrongdoing, explaining: “Although violations may have been overlooked by the subject inspectors and reports may have been approved by the supervisors that lacked required information, we were unable to determine whether these actions were oversights or intentional. Therefore, we were unable to determine if improper governmental actions occurred.”