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Washington Transportation Worker’s Death Leads to Fines, Citations

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has issued four serious safety violations carrying penalties of $22,000 following an investigation of the January death of Billy Rhynalds, a maintenance technician for the state Department of Transportation, citing WSDOT for four serious safety violations.

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.

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 high winds brought the trees down.

WSDOT was cited 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 their 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.

WSDOT has 15 working days from the date of the citation to inform L&I whether it plans to appeal.

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