Two big OSHA fines for Trenching Violations

In the 5th century B.C., Herodotus described methods for preventing deaths due to trench collapses in the Persian Wars, yet American workers continue to die every year as a result of inadequately protected trenches and excavations. OSHA put employers recently that it is taking this problem very seriously.

OSHA proposed over $200,000 in fines against John Prouty Construction in the case of a trench collapse in Knox County, Nebraska, in which four workers were killed last September. OSHA said that the company failed to instruct its workers in recognizing and avoiding unsafe trench conditions and didn’thave a proper cave-in protection system.

OSHA also cited A-1 Excavating Inc., Bloomer, Wis., for alleged willful violations of federal workplace safety standards, proposing nearly $700,000 in penalties for what the agency referred to as “numerous life-threatening violations” at a trenching operation in Weston, Wis. The agency’s press release gives the details:

“In September 2008, OSHA opened an inspection at the excavation job site in Weston after an agency inspector observed employees exposed to cave-in hazards while working in an 8-foot-deep, unprotected trench. As a result of the inspection, OSHA issued six instance-by-instance willful citations to the company for failing to protect employees from cave-in hazards, and five instance-by-instance willful citations for failing to set the spoil pile material excavated from the trench two feet or more from the edge of the excavation.

“It has long been known that cave-in fatalities are entirely preventable,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Donald Shalhoub. “Any employer who is involved in trenching and excavation can avoid such terrible tragedies by following OSHA’s clear regulations. Those who ignore safe practices and OSHA regulations are inviting tragedy into the lives of their employees and their families.”

A-1 Excavating Inc. has received 38 OSHA citations since 1982, including at least eight citations for hazards associated with potential cave-ins, and seven citations for having the spoil pile too close to the trench edge.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director in Appleton, Wis., or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. “

OSHA Press Release and WEAU News website: