L & I Cites Washington State DNR for Worker Who Died Alone in Forks

State, Federal, and Civil workers sometimes feel that if there are safety violations occurring in the workplace, it might actually be more difficult to become a whistle-blower in the face of the government’s interest to maintain a good image.  However, a recent incident in the Olympic Peninsula reinforces the fact that State Agencies are equally culpable and accountable when accidents or even fatalities occur.

In fact, the death of Sam Gaydeski just outside of Forks, WA earlier this year has led to changes in training and procedures in the Department of Natural Resources.

Mr. Gaydeski, a heavy equipment operator for the DNR, was clearing brush with a 314C Cat excavator that was fitted with a brush-cutting head.  He was working alone on a logging road and investigators from L&I suspect that he left the excavator on when he exited his cab.  Somehow, he made contact with the rotating cutting head and died.

Beyond the unfortunate mistake of leaving the machine running while exiting the cab, there is also concern over how long it took to discover Mr. Gaydeski, and what implications his death has for workers who labor alone.

In fact, it took nearly 3 hours for other to discover that Mr. Gaydeski had not reported in.  It seems there were no check-in procedures for workers who labor alone.  It was only when a supervisor learned that Mr. Gaydeski’s vehicle was still parked at the main office hours after his shift ended that someone drove to the worksite and came upon the body.

As a result, the Department of Natural Resources was fined nearly $17,000 for various missteps, and procedures are being put in place and reinforced to prevent such incidents in the future.

The Department of Labor & Industries cited DNR for:

  • Lacking written procedures for the specific task of operating that particular brush cutter and excavator.
  • Not enforcing or even establishing lockout/tagout procedures that prevent such accidents by forcing shutdowns before workers go near dangerous parts of vehicles.
  • Most importantly, not having procedures to establish the welfare of all employees working alone.  Basic logging safety demands periodic welfare checks on laborers working alone.
  • Having no procedure for employees working in the woods to check-in at the end of the day. At the start of their shifts, employees communicated where they would be working, but there was no process for having them report to their supervisors when they returned.

As the Great Recession continues to slash state budgets and agencies trim work crews, Washington State workers may find themselves completing tasks in solitude more and more often.  Workers should be aware of the law and be prepared to speak up if they feel their welfare during solo tasks is not being properly monitored.

If you are an injured worker seeking advice about your claim, do not hesitate to contact the experienced Washington Workers Compensation Attorneys at Emery Reddy for expert advice and support.

 

 

Emery Reddy