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OSHA Fines Contractor $1.3M for Trench Deaths

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

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Late last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it is proposing $1.3 million in penalties following the death of two workers at a Boston dig site.

In February, Jordy Alexander Castaneda Romero, 27, and Juan Carlos Figueroa Gutierrez, 33, were killed when a dump truck struck and pushed them into a nine-foot-deep trench. According to the DOL, it was the latest in a long line of incidents for Atlantic Coast Utilities LLC/Advanced Utilities Inc., its predecessor company, Shannon Construction Corp., their owner, Laurence Moloney, and successor company, Sterling Excavation LLC.

After an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation, the DOL cited the contractor for 28 willful, repeat, serious and other-than-serious violations, using its egregious citation policy, which allows the agency to propose a separate penalty for each instance of a violation, culminating in a total of $1,350,884 in penalties.

The top violation was reportedly a refusal or failure to train workers in recognizing and avoiding work-related hazards. OSHA also found that the company allegedly failed to conduct worksite inspections to identify and correct hazards, including the risks of being struck by construction vehicles and other traffic, crushed or engulfed in an unguarded trench, and being overcome by oxygen-deficient or toxic atmospheres in the trench and an adjacent manhole.

Ed Brown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Late last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it is proposing $1.3 million in penalties following the death of two workers at a Boston dig site.

According to the DOL, prior to the February incident, OSHA inspected Atlantic Coast Utilities LLC/Advanced Utilities Inc. and Shannon Construction Corp. six times and cited them for a total of 14 violations, including willful, repeat and serious violations, with fines of $81,242, of which $73,542 was unpaid and has been referred to debt collection.

In a separate enforcement activity, OSHA also reportedly opened an inspection of Sterling Excavation LLC on Aug. 13, in response to a complaint of excavation hazards at a worksite at 18 Crestway Road in East Boston. That inspection is ongoing.

And, in addition to OSHA’s inspections, the department’s Wage and Hour Division is currently investigating Atlantic Coast Utilities LLC for possible violations of federal wage law.

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

Atlantic Coast said in a statement that it is still deciding on how to respond, saying: “The company will assess the actions taken by OSHA today and will determine its next steps, including contesting any assertion of company error or negligence. It is clear that this was a tragic accident and any attempt to portray it otherwise is both inaccurate and imprudent.”

Excavation

In 2018, OSHA updated its National Emphasis Program in regard to trenching and excavation incidents. The update was reportedly in response to an uptick in trenching fatalities, the agency said at the time, noting that it planned to increase education and enforcement efforts, which include its inspectors recording trenching and excavation inspections in a national reporting system, and the development of outreach programs.

The DOL had committed to reducing excavation and trenching hazards back in March of that year, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released numbers that showed excavation and trenching fatalities in 2016 were nearly double the average of the previous two years combined.

Since then, other agencies have taken extra steps, most notably the release of a hazard alert by Kentucky’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program—a group from the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the University of Kentucky, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Kentucky officials outlined three such deaths in the state and went on to detail tips for workers that included:

  • Have a competent person inspect trenches prior to each work shift and after every rainstorm or other hazard-increasing occurrence;
  • All trenches between five feet and 20 feet in depth must have protective measures such as benching, shoring, sloping and shielding to protect employees. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer;
  • Keep excavated soil and other materials at least two feet from trench edges;
  • Train employees on how to spot signs of an imminent trench collapse, such as tension cracks, bulging and toppling; and
  • Provide a safe method to exit trenches within 25 feet of workers.

And even earlier that year, Washington cracked down by filing felony charges against a contractor for an employee’s death for the first time in the state’s history.

That accident occurred in January 2016, when crews from Alki Construction were working on a sewer repair project at a Seattle site when a trench collapsed just before 11 a.m. Worker Harold Felton was buried in six feet of wet soil, reports said, and when the Seattle Fire Department arrived, there were indications that he was alive.

After about 20 minutes at the scene, crews changed from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.

With the new NEP, OSHA also noted that it has developed a series of resources to help keep workers safe from trenching and excavation hazards.

   

Tagged categories: Department of Labor; Fatalities; Health & Safety; Health and safety; NA; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Safety

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