Highway Worker's Death Leads to $22,000 Fine for WSDOT

A WSDOT worker was responding to a report of a tree that had fallen on communication lines along Highway 203 near Carnation, Wash. While setting up highway cones to divert traffic, he was struck by a second tree that fell.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has concluded its investigation of the Jan. 16, 2011, death of Billy Rhynalds, a maintenance technician for the Washington Department of Transportation, citing WSDOT for four serious safety violations.

The citation, issued July 15, carries a proposed financial penalty of $22,000. WSDOT will have 15 working days to inform L&I whether it plans to appeal the citation.

On the night of Jan. 16, Ryhnalds was responding to a report of a tree that had fallen on communication lines along Highway 203 near Carnation, Wash. While setting up highway cones to divert traffic, he was struck by a second tree that fell. The trees were part of a grove of cottonwoods along the banks of the Snoqualmie River, which had flooded, saturating the ground. The flood waters undermined the roots, and the high winds of that evening brought the trees down.

L&I is citing WSDOT for:

  • Failing to tailor its Accident Prevention Program to the needs of the workplace. Field personnel are required to respond to natural hazard calls, but have no clear direction on assessing the scenes for their personal safety.
  • Failing to develop and implement training programs to improve the skill and awareness of employees. Records show that not all maintenance technicians have been trained on chain saw safety, basic tree falling techniques, or recognizing hazardous trees.
  • Failing to ensure its Accident Prevention Program was effective in practice. WSDOT had developed a pre-activity safety plan for all workers and supervisors to complete before any activity, but did not enforce its use.
  • Failing to provide adequate lighting for the job. Rhynalds had no working spotlight on his truck that would have allowed him to survey the area for potential hazards.
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