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State DNR fined $172,900 following investigation into diver's death

The state Department of Natural Resources has been fined $172,900 for 16 safety violations in the death of a DNR diver off the southern coast of Bainbridge Island.

David Scheinost, a 24-year-old from Puyallup, died July 24 while diving as part of a four-man dive team from the DNR's Aquatic Resources Division that was sampling for paralytic shellfish poisoning on the Restoration Point geoduck tract.

The state Department of Labor and Industries notified DNR officials Friday of the results of the department's safety and health inspection that was launched after Scheinost's death.

The notice included an extensive list of the DNR's violations, which included two "willful" violations, eight "serious" violations, and six "general" violations.

“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.”

The two "willful" violations carried a penalty totaling $135,000.

The citation notes that the DNR should have made sure its divers carried a reserve supply of breathing supply. In its review, the Division of Occupational Safety & Health inspectors found that in the six months before the inspection, nine divers made 370 dives without a reserve breathing supply.

That violation carried a $70,000 penalty.

In the diving incident that led to Scheinost's death, the state faulted the DNR for not having a "designated person in charge" on the surface of the water or in the vessel from where the diving operation was launched.

In the July 24 dive, the state noted that the person in charge of the dive was in the water for three of the dives that took place, which created a safety hazard for four other divers/DNR employees.

The DNR was fined $65,000 for the violation.

The serious violations noted a number of problems with the DNR's diving program.

The state said a diving equipment maintenance program had not been designed and implemented; diving equipment was not being maintained according to the manufacturer's recommendations; a dive equipment technician did not have current training; and high pressure air cylinders for divers were not tested at the required five-year intervals.

The investigation also found that the DNR divers had been exposed to safety hazards because their Diving Safe Practices Manual was not effective in almost a dozen areas of concern, including requirements for standby divers, equipment inspections, and other issues related to diving procedures. Investigators also found that one of the nine divers from the state's Tumwater dive team had not met the basic qualification standards for open water diving skills.

Many of the violations stemmed from the fatal dive on July 24.

The investigation fund that the divers did not maintain continuous visual contact with one another, and that the dive support vessel was not equipped with a life ring with 90 feet of retrieval line.

The DNR was also faulted for the lack of a pre-dive planning meeting before the fatal dive, and said a pre-dive safety briefing was also not conducted.

The investigation also found DNR divers using damaged or inoperable equipment, including hoses, breathing gas cylinders, and buoyancy devices.

DNR will have 15 working days to appeal the citation.

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