Companies in Washington state cited for hazardous work conditions will no longer be able to continue with business as usual while in the process of appealing citations, under signed into law last week by Washington Governor Chris Gregoire. Senate Bill 5068 requires businesses to correct serious safety violations – and the hazards they pose -- before their appeals are resolved.

The change, an amendment to the 1973 Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA), heralds a “significant improvement” for worker safety, according to Michael Silverstein, assistant director of Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries, the agency that issues citations. "This allows us to ensure that hazards are corrected even as we continue discussions with employers who may disagree with our citations," he said.

Oregon is the only other state with such a provision.

Previously, businesses in Washington who appealed a L&I citation for a serious workplace violation didn’t have to correct the hazard involved until the appeal was resolved – a process that can take months and, in some cases, years.

The L&I cites a recent analysis by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which found that between 1999 and 2009, fatalities occurred at 30 worksites where the appeal process was underway. One company was cited in 2006 for several serious violations after a worker suffered lead poisoning. The company appealed and did not correct the hazards during the appeal process. The citation was ultimately upheld, but not before a second worker also suffered lead poisoning.

Under the bill, employers can seek a stay to the requirement, with such requests receiving an expedited review.