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Aug. 26, 1997

Zillah drownings investigation completed - No additional citations

TUMWATER - The Department of Labor & Industries has announced that no additional citations or penalties will be issued in connection with the drowning deaths of four divers in an irrigation canal siphon near Zillah last March.

The agency's investigation was unable to establish that an employer-employee relationship existed for four search-and-rescue divers involved in the March 15 tragedy. Two search-and-rescue divers died. An employer-employee relationship is a crucial element in determining whether the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) has jurisdiction and authority. For WISHA jurisdiction to apply, specific conditions of employment must be met, including compensation, employer control, direction of the workers and other issues. The evidence didn't show this relationship clearly existed.

On June 30, 1997, the Roza Irrigation District was cited and fined $37,900 for 10 serious violations of worker safety and health regulations in connection with two of the divers' deaths. The district, which has appealed the violations and penalties, hired the initial two divers to remove auto debris from the half-mile long siphon. When they failed to surface as planned during the dive into the 100-foot deep siphon, search-and-rescue divers were called to the scene.

When the first pair of search-and-rescue divers also failed to surface, a third pair of divers entered the frigid waters. They located the first rescue divers and returned them to the surface, however, one of the search-and-rescue divers had drowned and the other sustained fatal injuries.

While L&I doesn't have WISHA jurisdiction over the search-and-rescue divers, it nevertheless has concern about serious safety and health problems for search and rescue activities. The department outlined the concerns in a letter to Yakima County Sheriff Doug Blair, offering L&I's consultative services.

This concludes L&I's investigation into the drownings.

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