Trench Collapse Work Injury Results in $424K OSHA Fine

A construction company has been ordered by federal regulators to pay nearly $425,000 in penalties for six egregious violations of workplace safety leading to the near-death of a worker who was buried in an eight-foot trench. pipework.jpg

The collapse happened fast, within a matter of seconds. His co-workers rushed to his side and helped to dig him out with their bare hands. Then, just moments after they pulled him to safety, the trench, which was unprotected, collapsed again.

The worker was severely injured and had to be hospitalized.

Now, following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the company was found to violate 16 total safety violations, with of those being the more serious, “willful violations” for failing to protect its workers. OSHA investigators say the construction company was aware the site was dangerous, and yet did not take the necessary, adequate measures to protect workers.

In addition to the six willful violations, the firm was also cited for nine serious violations, such as not removing debris from the edge of the excavation site. There also was no safe way for workers to go in and out of the trench and the company didn’t take care to conduct atmospheric testing to ensure workers were safe from toxic fumes following a sewer leak.

As a result of the investigation, the watchdog agency put the firm in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The purposes is to provide safety resources to companies that have displayed through repeated willful violations an indifference toward ensuring employees have a healthy, safe workplace. Companies assigned to the program are required to undergo mandated follow-up inspections to ensure legal compliance.

As an OSHA spokesman pointed out, these type of accidents are completely preventable. Long-established, basic precautions can help ensure trench cave-ins do not happen. These precautions aren’t secret and they aren’t anything new.

This is a firm that employes 150 workers and was contracted to help construct sewer and water lines for the capital of Texas. This was a company with supervisors and administrators who absolutely should have known better. Their failure to put in place basic protections almost cost one worker his life. Many others’ lives were put in jeopardy when they tried to save him.

Some of the other violations included:

  • Fire extinguisher not charged at refueling point (serious)
  • Alloy steel chain slings didn’t have permanent identification on equipment, and at least one sling failed during use (serious)
  • Steel chain slings were not inspected periodically, as required (serious)
  • Guard for starter on generator was missing (serious)
  • Debris, including mailboxes, road signs and other materials were not cleared from the edge of the trench (serious)
  • Fire hydrant left unsupported, leaving workers exposed to strucky-by hazard (serious)
  • Defective ladders that did not extend to the upper landing of the excavation site were used by workers (serious)
  • Other defective ladders had broken or missing rungs, cleats or steps, split rails, corroded compartments and other faulty/defective components (serious)

Some view the construction industry as inherently dangerous. And it’s true these workers may face more potential danger on a day-to-day basis than an office worker. But these jobs do not need to result in injury or death. It’s not part of the job. Employers can prevent occupational injuries, and have an obligation to do so.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Trench collapse seriously injures worker, leads to $424K fine for employer, July 22, 2015, Occupational Safety & Health Adminis tion

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State ex rel. Tradesmen Int’l v. Indus. Comm’n – Permanent Total Disability Affirmed, July 15, 2015, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog

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