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June 30, 1997

Fines issued for violations in Zillah drownings

YAKIMA-The Department of Labor & Industries has cited and fined the Roza Irrigation District of Yakima $37,900 for violating worker safety rules in connection with the drowning deaths of two divers in an irrigation canal siphon near Zillah last March 15.

A total of six divers were involved in the tragedy that also claimed the lives of two search-and-rescue divers. The department's investigation into the activities of the other divers is continuing.

The incident involved two divers employed by the irrigation district who drowned while attempting to clear abandoned auto debris from the half-mile long underground siphon. Four rescue divers responded to the accident after the two initial divers failed to surface. Two of the rescue divers also were overcome as they attempted to locate the original divers.

When they, too, failed to surface, two additional divers entered the frigid water. They found the second set of divers and returned to the surface, but one of the second set of divers had drowned and the other died days later without regaining consciousness. The bodies of the original Roza divers were retrieved after the siphon was drained.

L&I is required by law to investigate workplace fatalities for potential violations of occupational safety and health standards and for identification of additional worker protection needs.

The scope of the primary investigation into the tragedy focused on the two irrigation district employees after investigators were unable to establish an employee-employer relationship for the others. Based on information developed during the investigation, the department is continuing an investigation into the overall operation of the Yakima County Sheriff's Office dive team.

The irrigation district was cited for a total of 10 serious violations of rules regulating commercial diving and confined-space entry -- Washington Administrative Codes (WAC) 296-37 and 296-62, respectively. Penalties totaling $37,900 were imposed. The employer has 15 working days from the date of receipt to appeal.

Specifically, Roza was cited under the commercial diving standard for:

  • Failing to ensure that the dive team members had the necessary experience or training for a "permit-required confined space entry" dive. Failing to ensure that a designated person who had experience and training in the assigned diving operation was in charge. ($4,200)
  • Failing to develop and maintain a "safe practice manual" (including a copy of the commercial dive standard) and have it available at the dive location for each dive team member. ($4,200)
  • Failing to ensure that the planning of the siphon diving operation took the following aspects into account ($4,200):
    • Diving mode (in that open circuit self-contained underwater breathing apparatus is an unsatisfactory mode for extensive permit-required confined space penetration.
    • Surface and underwater conditions and hazards.
    • Breathing gas supply (including reserves), in that air volumes utilized by the divers were inadequate by volume.
    • Emergency procedures.
  • Failing to ensure that divers engaged in enclosed or physically confined spaces were line-tended. Failing to have a decompression chamber available for a no-compression scuba diving at depths greater than 100 feet. Failing to have a diver stationed at the underwater point of entry when diving is conducted in enclosed or physically confining space and have a positive means of communication with diver/divers within the space. ($4,200)
  • Failing to keep and have records required by the standard. ($100)
Under the confined-space standard, the employer was cited for:
  • Failing to implement a written confined-space program for entry into the irrigation canal siphon. Failing to recognize and evaluate the siphon as a permit-required confined space. Failing to implement practices and procedures necessary for safe entry into the permit-required confined space. Failing to evaluate the workplace to determine if any spaces are permit-required confined spaces. Failing to inform exposed employees about confined-space hazards by posting danger signs or other means. Failing to take measures to prevent unauthorized entry into a permit-required confined space. ($4,200)
  • Failing to provide communications equipment necessary to comply with requirements of the standard. Specifically, failing to ensure that the divers were wearing full-body harnesses along with a lifeline. Failing to provide a dry suit to protect a diver from near-freezing water. (One of the divers wore a wet suit). Failing to ensure that the divers had an adequate air supply. Failing to ensure that the divers used lighting equipment sufficient for the divers to see well enough to work safely and exit the space quickly in an emergency. Failing to develop and implement procedures for rescuing divers from permit-required confined spaces - the divers failed to use full-body harnesses to which retrieval lines could be attached. ($4,200)
  • Failing to complete a confined-space entry permit prior to the entry. ($4,200)
  • Failing to train the divers so they had the understanding, knowledge and skill necessary to work safely in a permit-required confined space. ($4,200)
  • Failing to ensure that the divers were provided with a means of communicating with attendants who could monitor the status of the divers and alert the divers to evacuate if needed. ($4,200)

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