David Scheinost, age 24, was one of a four-person dive team from the DNR Aquatic Resources Division that was collecting geoduck samples to test for paralytic shellfish poisoning from the Manzanita and Restoration Point geoduck harvest tracts off Washington’s Bainbridge Island on July 24. Two SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) divers had deployed on their third dive of the day when the victim surfaced in distress and called out that he couldn’t breathe. The other divers were unable to reach him before he slipped below the surface and was gone. His body was found 3 days later.
The state’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) conducted an investigation into the dive-safety policies and practices at DNR and found:
- 370 occurrences over a 6-month period in which divers were deployed without carrying a reserve breathing-gas supply.
- DNR did not ensure a designated person was in charge at the dive location to supervise all aspects of the diving operation affecting the health and safety of the divers.
L&I concluded that these were “willful” violations, which means they were committed with intentional disregard or plain indifference to worker safety and health regulations. The agency issued proposed penalties of $172,900.
“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.”
In addition to the two willful violations, L&I cited DNR for eight serious and five general violations for not complying with standard safe-diving practices and procedures, including failure to:
- Have an effective safety and health accident prevention program and training program.
- Ensure that divers maintained continual visual contact with each other.
- Inspect and maintain equipment.
- Have a stand-by diver available while divers are in the water.
In Washington, state and local governments must provide safe workplaces for their employees just like private businesses, including following the minimum workplace safety and health rules. L&I is responsible for workplace safety and health and investigating workplace deaths for all private, state and local government worksites.
DNR will have 15 working days to appeal the citation. As with any citation, penalty money paid is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.