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City Cited in Official’s Drowning

Monday, March 28, 2011

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Washington State authorities have issued 12 safety citations and fined a small town $15,750 in the death of the city’s public-works director, who drowned last summer in a storm drain.

City of George

The City of George is accused of not training its
only full-time employee.

“This was an awful situation and very traumatic to this community,” said a spokesman for the State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries. “The employee who died, Wallace Bushman, was quite well known in his town and the surrounding area.”

Bushman, 60, public works director for the City of George, WA, perished Aug. 26, 2010, as he was checking on a storm drain near some new construction. He apparently fell into the drain head first and became stuck. He was found drowned in the water at the bottom of the drain about 30 minutes later.

‘He Did All the Work’

Bushman had been the city’s public works director for six years. He was, in fact, the only public employee in the town of about 600 residents.

“He did everything,” Mayor Elliot Kooy said last summer. “He was the sewer operator, freshwater operator, repaired the streets, took care of the park, worked with contractors, everything.  He also volunteered a tremendous amount of time with the Community Hall. I may have been the mayor, but he did all the work.”

Tragically, however, the state said, Bushman apparently lacked training for many of the dangers he faced in his jobs.

Confined Space Violations

L&I issued 12 serious violations in the case and ordered that the violations be addressed by April 11. The city was given 15 working days from receipt of the citations March 9 to respond.

Most of the citations stem from Permit Required Confined Space (PRCS) violations. The state said city workers (Bushman, at the time) were not trained in entering or working in confined spaces, were not warned of their dangers, and lacked protocols for supervising PRCS work.

State investigators determined that the storm drain in which Bushman died was not considered a “confined space” for the purposes of the citation.

“However, the city had several other sewers, wet wells, meter vaults and water reservoirs that all qualify as permit-required confined spaces,” the L&I spokesman said. “It was the lack of managing those areas for which they were fined.”

The city requires a public employee to work in confined spaces more than 30 times a year to make inspections and repairs, the state noted.

Lack of Program, Training, Warnings

The violations alleged include:

• Lack of a written PRCS program. The city was ordered to develop a detailed PRCS program, documenting permit entry procedures, training, equipment use, rescue protocols, designation of employee roles, and more;

• Failure to notify employees regarding “the existence, location, and danger of” PRCS “in the workplace either by posting danger signs or other equally effective means”;

• Failure to provide required information for city contractors who work in confined spaces;

• Failure to train or certify as proficient employees who must inspect or work in confined spaces;

• Lack of procedures for appropriate permits and lack of current or archived permits for review;

• Failure to provide, maintain or use proper testing and monitoring equipment, ventilating equipment, or rescue and emergency equipment;

• Failure to evaluate and control hazards for safe entry into PRCS. “No records exist to show entries made by the Public Works Director for 2010 were properly evaluated by testing the atmosphere for oxygen, combustible and toxic gases and vapors or that hazards were controlled,” according to L&I documents;

• Failure to ensure that rescue and emergency services were available when employees entered PRCS;

• Failure to have an entry supervisor or attendant outside the PRCS as required. “Confined spaces were entered in 2010, and no documentation exists to show entry supervisor performed all responsibilities and duties,” documents say; and

• Failure to ensure that workers “knew of the hazardous conditions and their duties when entering confined spaces for the City of George.”

Fine Factors

The L&I spokesman noted that the fine in the case may seem low, given Bushman’s death, but that each fine is based on several factors, including the size of the employer, how many employees are exposed, the severity of the hazard, and the employer’s efforts to address the hazard.

“The other thing to keep in mind is that the penalties are not result-based,” the spokesman said. “They would have been the same had there been no death.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Confined space; Fatalities; Health and safety

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