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OSHA Inspector Averts Cave-In Accident

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

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Quick action by a federal safety inspector on a Chicago site visit prevented serious or fatal injury when he urged the contractor to remove a worker from an unsafe trench—just moments before the trench caved in.



Trenching and excavation hazards
are addressed in standards for
general industry and marine terminals.

Although the worker was spared, the employer wasn’t. The contractor, PRE Service Co. Inc. of Elmwood Park, IL, now faces nine OSHA citations for serious violations and a proposed fine of $27,000.

First Inspection

The incident occurred Jan. 25 on OSHA’s first inspection visit to a job site run by the contractor. The inspector, from OSHA's Chicago North Area Office, was driving by the site where trenching and excavation work were underway.

He initiated an inspection under OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation and saw an employee working in an unprotected six-foot-deep trench with sections that were visibly undermined.

The compliance officer pointed out the hazards to the employer, who voluntarily removed the employee from the trench. Within minutes, the section collapsed directly onto where the employee had been working, OSHA said.


Following inspection and investigation, OSHA issued citations for nine serious violations against the company on Feb. 24. The citations allege:

• Failure to have employees in trenches wearing helmets;

• Lack of worker safety vests, traffic control and signage warning of the work on a busy street;

• Lack of guards on power tools;

• Lack of ladders, stairs or other means of egress from a trench;

• Lack of support of sidewalk and pavement adjacent to the trench;

• Leaving excavated material at the edge of the trench, instead of moving it at least two feet back;

• Lack of a competent person on site to perform inspections; and

• Lack of cave-in protection.

No information was available about the company, which has no web site and no published phone number. The company could not be reached for comment. OSHA did not have additional details about the project or its owner.

OSHA declined to identify the compliance officer.

Excavating Hazards

Trenching and Excavating are recognized as among the most hazardous construction operations. Hazards are addressed in specific standards for the general industry and marine terminals.

OSHA revised Subpart P, Excavations, of 29 CFR 1926.650, 29 CFR 1926.651, and 29 CFR 1926.652 to make the standard easier to understand, permit the use of performance criteria, and provide employers with options when classifying soil and selecting employee protection methods.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Health and safety; OSHA

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