OSHA Fines $45,000 for Fatal Trench Collapse Accident

Trench collapse accidents put workers at high risk of injury and death.trench

Just last year in Columbia, you may recall a worker died at a construction site of new student housing, where the 31-year-old was buried 6 feet below ground level when a cave-in occurred. The man had been an employee with the city. A similar incident occurred on Fort Bragg a year before, when a civilian contractor was buried under 18 feet of dirt after a trench collapse. It was determined a rock or large clump of dirt knocked the wall loose.

Such tragedies of course aren’t unique to North Carolina and South Carolina. In March, a construction worker in Northeast Ohio was killed in a trench cave-in that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently deemed “preventable.”

According to a recent article by The Cleveland Plain Dealer, OSHA imposed a nearly $45,000 fine against the worker’s employer, citing the company for one repeated and five serious safety violations that played a role in causing the worker’s death.

The local OSHA director told the newspaper reporter the employer knew or should have known cave-in protection was required for any trench more than five feet deep and the firm’s failure to ensure these regulations were followed cost this 28-year-old worker his life.

Specifically, OSHA accused the company of:

  • Failing to train workers to recognize trench-related hazards;
  • Not having a competent person on site to inspect the trench;
  • Not providing trench cave-in protection;
  • Failing to protect workers from excavated material falling into the trench.

Standard OSHA rules require special protections for any trench deeper than five feet. Trenches 20 feet or deeper require an engineer to sign off.

Design of these protective systems can be complicated because there are so many factors to consider, including:

  • Depth of cut;
  • Water content of soil;
  • Soil classification;
  • Soil changes due to climate or weather;
  • Other operations in the area.

Employers are also required to have trenches inspected every single day by a competent person before even a single worker enters. OSHA also requires workers have safe entry and exit to all excavation sites. That includes having appropriate steps, ladders, ramps or other safe means of egress for workers in trenches 4 feet or deeper. These devices must at all times be located within 25 feet of workers.

This was the second time regulators had cited this particular company for trench-related hazards. In January 2014, the company was fined $5,400 for not providing workers in trenches with ladders.

While each site may require specific precautions, general excavation and trenching rules require:

  • Keeping heavy equipment away from the edges of a trench;
  • Having knowledge of where the underground utilities are;
  • Conducting tests for toxic gases, hazardous fumes or low oxygen levels;
  • Inspecting trenches before every shift and also after rainstorms;
  • Not having those in trenches work under raised loads.

OSHA reports that trench collapses cause dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries at construction sites in the U.S. every year.

Workers who suffer injuries as a result of trench collapses or families of those who die may be entitled to workers’ compensation.

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

Additional Resources:

OSHA cites Aqua Ohio, proposes $45,000 in fines, after worker killed in Mentor trench collapse, June 7, 2016, By Evan MacDonald, Cleveland.com

More Blog Entries:

Carolina Road Construction Crews Imperiled by Cars, June 4, 2016, Carolina Trench Collapse Injury Lawyer Blog

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