Contractor Fined $156K After Teen Loses Legs in Trencher Accident

Me Photo Headshot
mini track loader with trencher attachment disconnected
The mini track loader and trencher attachment above were being used to dig fence posts in Washington when the 16-year-old operator was severely injured.
Washington State Department of Labor & Industries

A Washington contractor faces fines of $156,259 after a 16-year-old student worker had his legs amputated due to a trenching accident.

The boy, who was part of a work-based learning program, was operating a mini track loader with a trencher attachment in June for Rotschy LLC, a general contractor based in Vancouver, digging a channel for fenceposts. During the work in La Center, Washington, he was dragged underneath the blade. His injuries were so severe his legs had to be amputated, according to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

L&I cited Rotschy for allowing him to operate the trencher without supervision or adequate safety measures and has issued a fine of $156,259, which is the maximum amount allowed. The company is also being investigated by L&I’s Youth Employment Safety Unit, which could lead to further fines and punishment.

Rotschy, which was formed in 1988 as an excavation company, has appealed the fine. The company has more than 300 workers, according to its website.

The company released the following statement to the media after the violations were made public, noting that the teen continues to work for the company:

"We were deeply saddened by the incident involving one of our minor workers who suffered a tragic injury on our job site. As a family-owned company with a strong safety record, this has been a distressing moment for us. Safety has always been our top priority. We are committed to learning from this and strengthening our safety measures to ensure such incidents never happen again. 

“The worker has returned to work for Rotschy in an office role using the skills obtained in the field to assist a project manager in project duties."

L&I noted that Rotschy had a student-learner exemption that allowed minors working for it in the program to do some work that is not usually permitted for students under 18. However, operating a walk-behind trencher was not one of the jobs allowed, L&I says.

Along with the fine, L&I issued an immediate stop-work order to Rotschy in June and suspended its student-learner 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.”

According to the L&I citation, Rotschy faces “willful serious” violations for not ensuring that employees were qualified by training or experience to operate equipment and machinery as required. “Upon inspection it was determined that at least two employees did not have sufficient training to operate various types of equipment and machinery,” the citation says.

The citation also said the company “did not ensure that crew leader-crew safety meetings were conducted at the beginning of each job and at least weekly … Employees did not participate in a safety meeting prior to beginning work on this job.”

It added: “The employer did not ensure walk-around safety inspections were conducted at the beginning of each job, and at least weekly thereafter.”

According to L&I, a willful serious violation is one in which “the company knew or should have known the requirements, but still failed to meet them,” and because of serious injury.