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Cal/OSHA fines California ski resort for death of worker in avalanche control blasting activities

14 August 2017

Following an investigation into the death of a ski patroller at the Squaw Valley resort, California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has cited and fined Squaw Valley Ski Holdings for violating two workplace safety codes, including for unsafe working practices while carrying out avalanche control blasting.

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Stock image

On January 24, 2017, Joe Zuiches, a 42-year-old Squaw Valley ski patroller, was killed during avalanche control activities at the top of Gold Coast Ridge at Squaw Valley Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe.

Six months later, Cal/OSHA has cited Squaw Valley for failing to implement a safety procedure associated with hang cord entanglements during hang cord blasting operations. The penalty for the violation was $11,250.

The agency also cited the ski resort for failing to ensure that all crewmembers maintained visual contact or awareness of physical location of crewmembers at all times during avalanche control activities, with an accompanying fine of $9,000, making a total of $20,250 in fines.

According to the investigation, on Jan. 24, 2017, two teams of patrollers were assigned to the Gold Coast Ridge for avalanche control. The patrollers were blasting by hand and hang cord deployment with Dyno AP Plus 1.8-pound explosives with cap and fuse with a 90-second burn rate.

At round 8:30 a.m., officials say Zuiches instructed his partner to join the other team and that he would meet him after he performed the hanging cord blast where they were currently located. According to the citation, after joining the other team, Zuiches' partner heard a couple of explosive detonations in the area. Roughly 30 seconds later, he radioed Zuiches but didn't receive a response.

The patrollers then returned to the last known location of Zuiches and found him dead. Nobody working in the area witnessed the incident, officials say.

A Squaw Valley Ski Resort spokesman said the company would appeal the citation.


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