Washington DNR Appealing Citation in Drowning Case

The state Department of Labor & Industries cited the agency for 15 safety violations and assessed a $172,900 fine.

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources recently announced it will appeal a citation from the state Department of Labor & Industries, which cited DNR for 15 worker safety violations after investigating the drowning death of David Scheinost, a 24-year-old DNR diver, last July.

L&I's citation carries a proposed penalty of $172,900. (Washington state and local governments are required to provide safe workplaces for their employees just like private businesses, according to L&I.)

Scheinost was on a four-person dive team from the DNR Aquatic Resources Division on July 24, when they were collecting geoduck samples to test for paralytic shellfish poisoning. According to L&I, two divers had deployed on their third dive of the day when Scheinost surfaced in distress and called out that he couldn't breathe. The others could not reach him before he slipped below the surface, and his body was found three days later.

L&I said its investigation into the dive safety policies and practices at DNR found 370 times during a six-month period where divers were deployed without carrying a reserve breathing-gas supply, and DNR did not ensure a designated person was in charge at the dive location to supervise all aspects of the operation. Accordingly, L&I classified two of the violations as willful.

"Commercial diving involves risks that unfortunately lead too often to tragedies like this incident," said Anne Soiza, assistant director of L&I's Division of Occupational Safety and Health. "These significant risk factors require advance planning, properly maintained equipment and strict adherence to procedures to ensure the protection of workers’ lives on each and every dive."

DNR posted this statement Jan. 11 in response to the citation:

"The tragic death of a Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) diver on July 24, 2012 led to an immediate suspension of dive operations and a comprehensive review of DNR's dive program. An independent team of dive experts was tasked with a top to bottom review of the dive program, to identify needed changes and improvements. The expert review team included current and former master divers from NOAA and the Navy, as well as directors from the Dive Institute of Technology. That review identified 37 items that DNR needed to address. DNR has completed about two thirds of these action items and is working to complete the rest. These corrective actions include acquisition, testing, and maintenance of equipment; training; policies; and dive procedures. DNR has already corrected most of the violations in the citation issued today by Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), including the two most serious violations. DNR intends to appeal the citation, not because DNR believes it has been treated unfairly, but rather so that DNR may fully describe to L&I the work that has been accomplished since July to improve safety within the dive program, as this relates to the specific violations contained in the citation. Irrespective of its appeal, DNR will ensure that any outstanding violations are corrected within the 15-day period specified by L&I. DNR takes very seriously the safety of its employees and the public. Many of our employees work outdoors in environments and on duties that are inherently risky. It is imperative that we do everything we can to foster a safe work place."

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