One state agency fines another for snorkeller’s death

Wind River, Washington state
Wind River, Washington state

The death of a snorkeller in Wind River in the USA’s Washington state has resulted in one state agency fining another thousands of dollars for safety violations – and demanding improvements.

On 13 September last year, a 31-year-old female biologist working for Washington’s Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) died after getting into difficulties in the small Columbia River tributary in the south of the state.

She had been taking part in a routine snorkelling survey to assess the numbers of a gamefish called steelhead present in its waters. 

Skamania County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call reporting that the woman had become trapped. First responders tried to reach her, and search and rescue teams from other nearby counties and the sheriff’s dive team joined the search but she was dead by the time they found her. Her death was recorded as accidental.

Following an investigation, however, the Washington State Department of Labour & Industries (L&I) has identified safety violations on the part of WDFW.

Presenting its final report on the fatality, L&I has called for the agency to pay a $30,800 penalty within 15 days, and also to implement a number of mandatory improvements within a month.

Emergency devices

WDFW is now required to verify that every employee conducting fieldwork has a personal emergency device, and the agency must update both its field communications policy and snorkel procedures manual.

It also has to confirm that all staff conducting snorkel surveys receive the necessary training before starting work, and update its standards and protocols on equipment required in first-aid kits, based on the potential hazards to which its staff could be exposed.

“We take these findings seriously and are committed to working with our staff and L&I to make the necessary adjustments for safety,” said WDFW director Kelly Susewind. 

The department had suspended all snorkelling surveys across the state following the incident, and was said to have been working toward addressing the violations since it occurred.

Steps already taken included requiring personal flotation devices to be used by all staff working in, on or around water, including training in their use, and improving a check-in/check-out system for staff working alone or in remote places.

A Garmin InReach safety device
A Garmin InReach safety device

More safety training was also said to have been introduced. Additional safety equipment, including Garmin InReach satellite communications devices, first-aid kits and personal flotation devices were being provided, with a statewide safety evaluation of safety protocols being carried out among all work units.

Also on Divernet: Red flags for snorkellers: how to stop the quiet deaths, Lack of evidence impedes Sharm snorkel death probe, Snorkel-deaths report questions IPO findings

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