The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has fined Rotschy LLC for not supervising a 16-year-old boy operating a walk-behind trencher. The boy was dragged underneath the blade of the machine, and his injuries were so severe that he lost both legs to amputation.
The boy was working as part of a work-based learning program that allows students to earn credit and gain experience. State law prohibits workers under 18 years old from performing certain employment tasks. Although Rotschy, based in Vancouver, Washington, had a student learner exemption, according to L&I, use of a walk-behind trencher was not included in that exemption.
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“This tragedy should never have happened, and this young man’s life will never be the same,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Employers with young workers should look after our children as they would their own. When they fail to keep a young worker safe, it’s a violation of the community’s trust.”
In total, L&I’s safety & health division has fined the company $156,259—the maximum penalty available—for allowing employees to operate equipment without appropriate training or experience. The violation is considered “willful” because the company knew or should have known the requirements, but still failed to meet them. It’s also classified as “serious” because the issues could, and in this case did, lead to serious injury or death. Rotschy has appealed the citation.
Rotschy is facing further investigation from L&I’s Youth Employment Safety Unit, which oversees, among other things, hiring requirements, prohibited duties, and hours young workers may work. The investigation could lead to additional fines and restrictions on the company’s ability to employ minor workers and participate in work-based learner programs.
According to a Rotschy statement cited in an article in People magazine:
"As a family-owned company with a strong safety record, this has been a distressing moment for us." The company said the boy has returned to work in an office role, "using the skills obtained in the field to assist a project manager in project duties."