Construction firm cited for trenching violations

December 2012, Vol. 67 No. 12

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited a Mississippi construction company with two willful and one serious safety violation following an inspection of two trenches where workers were relocating gas and water pipelines along a state highway.

OSHA has proposed penalties totaling $117,600. The willful violations involve failing to provide workers with protection against cave-in hazards while working in one trench that was more than five feet deep and another trench that was eight feet deep. A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirement, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The serious violation involves exposing employees to cave-in hazards by not providing a ladder to enter and exit the excavation. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

“An unguarded trench can collapse and bury workers beneath tons of soil and debris before they have a chance to react or escape,” said Clyde Payne, OSHA’s area director in Jackson. “The employer is aware of OSHA’s safety standards with regard to excavation and trenching, but chose to put employee’s lives at risk by having them work in an unprotected trench.”

OSHA standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be protected against collapse.