Young worker loses both legs to trenching machine, leading to fines, further investigation into Vancouver construction company

January 23, 2024

TUMWATER — A 16-year old boy was using a walk-behind trencher on a job site in La Center to dig a channel for fence posts this summer when he was dragged underneath the blade, causing injuries so severe that he lost both legs to amputation.

After a safety & health investigation, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited and fined the company he worked for in connection with the incident.

Rotschy LLC, the Vancouver, Wash. construction company that sent him to operate the machine without supervision or adequate safety measures is facing more than $150,000 in fines.

Minors using prohibited equipment on the job

The young worker was participating in a work-based learning program that allows students to earn credit and gain experience working outside the classroom. Washington’s youth employment laws identify prohibited duties for workers under 18 years old. Rotschy had a student learner exemption permitting minors to do some work that is otherwise prohibited, but use of the walk-behind trencher was not part of the exemption.

In the aftermath of the incident, L&I issued an order of immediate restraint to stop work and suspended the student learner exemption.

“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.

Youth employment investigation continues

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.

L&I’s safety and health division issued the citation in December, and Rotschy has appealed.

Safety records now more easily available to the public

The public can now check a company’s safety record more easily than ever through L&I’s Verify tool . Anyone using the tool can view records of past inspections and citations alongside a company’s registration, licensing, insurance, and other information. To see specific details of citations and fines, search for a company, then scroll down to the Workplace Safety & Health section and click on the hyperlinked inspection number.

A walk-behind trencher that severely injured a 16-year-old boy.

L&I photo shows the walk-behind trencher a 16-year-old boy was using to dig a channel for fence posts. He was injured so severely he lost both legs to amputation.

For media information:

Matt Ross, L&I Public Affairs, 360-706-4857.

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