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Last spring Hiawatha Elementary School in Othello was conducting their annual science experiment where students make protective egg cases that they test by dropping eggs from various heights.

The experiment took a tragic turn when the boom lift truck holding a line worker and a teacher broke, causing both to fall 20 to 30 feet to the ground. Robert D. Smith, 50, died and a teacher, Melissa Martinez, broke several vertebrae in this fall.

Avista Utlities was recently ordered to pay $17,600 in fines for safely violations. The company was penalized $8,800 for failing to ensure that employees working on a boom lift were wearing a full body harness and a safety line. They were penalized an additional $4,400 for inadequate training and another $4,200 for failing to ensure the gear was thoroughly inspected before use.

Othello School District was fined $6,300 for lack of adequate hazard and safety training.

In this case, much is apparently still unknown and it’s not clear what caused the accident–why the boom failed. Nevertheless, it seems possible that the safety violations contributed to the lineman and teacher’s injuries.

Some of you might look at the amount of the fine and say, “that’s nothing.” Fortunately, the fact that a company is fined by the State doesn’t mean an injured worker or his or her family members can’t seek full compensation through a negligence claim if someone other than the worker’s employer was negligent in causing the accident (if the employer or the worker was at fault, workers’ compensation benefits should be available.)

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Worksite Injuries and Worker Compensation.

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