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Contractors Cited for Cave-in Hazards

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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Federal safety authorities have taken action against two Colorado contractors, alleging serious trenching dangers during an apartment complex renovation project in November.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Reconstruction Experts Inc., based in Arvada, CO, for three safety violations, including one willful—the agency's highest level of infraction. In addition, the agency cited Chivas Contractors, of Aurora, CO, for three serious safety violations.

OSHA Trench Poster

OSHA calls an unprotected trench "an early grave." The agency has developed multiple resources for trenching and excavating safety.

The combined proposed penalties total $81,400.

Reconstruction Experts did not respond Tuesday (March 18) to a request for comment. Chivas Contractors could not be located for comment.

Deep Trench, No Protection

Reconstruction Experts, which employs about 180 people, provides renovation and remodeling services for properties in Colorado, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming. Chivas Contractors is a framing contractor that employs about 10 people.

Last year, OSHA said, Reconstruction Experts solicited help from Chivas Contractors to locate a damaged water pipe for an apartment complex in Aurora that was being renovated.

Workers dug a trench deeper than 11 feet without using a cave-in protective system, OSHA said.

New Citations...

The willful violation for Reconstruction Experts, with a penalty of $63,000, alleges failure to protect workers from cave-in hazards while working in a trench deeper than five feet. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Two serious violations against Reconstruction Experts, with a penalty of $10,800, allege failure to:

  • Provide a fall protection system for workers leaning over the edge of the trench while hoisting up excavated material from the bottom; and
  • Provide an access ladder that extended three feet above the landing surface.
Reconstruction Services
Reconstruction Experts Inc.

Reconstruction Experts offers renovation and remodeling services across six states.

Chivas Contractors was cited for three serious safety violations, with a penalty of $7,600, for similar failures, according to OSHA.

A serious violation reflects substantial probability that death or serious injury could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The companies have 15 business days to respond to the citations.

...And Old Ones

According to OSHA's records, the agency has inspected Reconstruction Experts' worksite on nine occasions since September 2007; three of those inspections were prompted by complaints. Four inspections yielded a total of seven citations:

  • In 2012, the company was issued two repeat citations for fall-protection violations and fined $14,400. The citations were later tentatively reduced to serious, with the fine unchanged.
  • In 2011, the company was issued five serious citations and fined $16,830—a case that was eventually closed as one serious and two other-than-serious violations and the same fine.
OSHA trench rules

OSHA requires ladders, stairs, ramps or other safe means of egress in all trenches that are four feet deep or more.

  • In 2010, OSHA issued one serious violation related to fall protection and issued a $1,625 fine. The violation was later reclassified as other-than-serious, with the same fine.
  • In 2009, OSHA issued one serious violation related to aerial lifts and fined the company $3,500. That violation also was later reclassified as other-than-serious with the same fine.

OSHA shows no previous record for Chivas Contractors.

'End a Life in Seconds'

"Employers continue to expose workers to trenching hazards that can end a life in a matter of seconds when a trench caves in," said David Nelson, OSHA's area director in Greenwood Village.

"OSHA will not tolerate such disregard for worker safety."

OSHA provides a number of resources for safety during trenching and excavation, which are considered one of the most dangerous construction operations. The fatality rate for excavation work is 112 percent higher than the rate for general construction, according to OSHA.

Such operations kill two workers every month, on average, according to OSHA, which calls an unprotected trench "an early grave."

An OSHA Fact Sheet notes relevant standards, rules and safety measures. A Construction eTool offers detailed guidance.


Tagged categories: Commercial contractors; Construction; General contractors; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Rehabilitation/Repair; Renovation; Subcontractors

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