News Release USDL: 97-147
Wednesday, April 30, 1997
Contact: Susan Hall Fleming, (202) 219-8151
New Jersey And Pennsylvania Trenching Cases Also
Florida Excavation Firm Involved In Fatal Trench Collapse
Faces $448,000 OSHA Penalty, Third Highest For Trenching
A Pompano Beach, Fla., excavation company is being cited by
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for
failing to slope or shore a trench that caved in, killing one
worker and seriously injuring two others. Proposed penalties in
the case total $448,000--the third highest amount ever proposed
by OSHA in a trenching case.
OSHA cited the company, Richard E. Fowler, Inc., with six
alleged willful and four alleged serious violations that resulted
in the cave-in on Nov. 7, 1996, in Margate, Fla. When the cave-in
occurred, four workers were laying water and sewer lines in
the 10-foot deep trench, which was filled with 12-18 inches of
water. As the walls of the trench collapsed, the worker who was
killed and the two workers who were seriously injured were buried
under a heavy chunk of compacted soil and gravel. A fourth
worker was trapped by sandy soil from the sides of the trench and
debris that had been dumped close to the trench edge.
OSHA also cited companies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey
today for trenching violations. In the Pennsylvania case a
father and son were both killed in an accident when the trench
they were working in collapsed. In New Jersey an OSHA inspector
observed employees working in an unprotected trench.
Alliance Construction Company of Ardmore, Pa., was cited for
alleged violations totalling $145,000 in penalties as a result
of an acident on Nov. 13, 1996, in which two workers, a father
and son, died. OSHA's inspection was initiated because of a
referral from the local police department.
Scafar Contracting, Inc., of Newark, N.J., was cited for
alleged trenching violations at a construction site, also last
November, with proposed penalites of $103,000. An OSHA
compliance officer observed workers in an unprotected trench
while he was en route to another worksite. Employee interviews
revealed that the employer did not use appropriate
trenching protection devices.
"Because of Fowler's blatant disregard for his employees'
safety, we are proposing the maximum possible penalty for this
case," said Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety
and Health Gregory R. Watchman. "Let there be no doubt: when
workers' lives are at stake, their safety must come first--not
profits or deadlines or convenience." Watchman indicated that
OSHA is considering referring the case to the Department of
Justice for possible criminal prosecution.
Watchman said the OSHA investigation showed that several
people at the site called the dangerous trench conditions to the
employer's attention. Further, several minor cave-ins had
occurred earlier in the day, demonstrating the instability of the
trench walls. Yet Fowler failed to alter the shape of the trench
or use a "trench box," a metal cage-like enclosure that protects
trench workers against crumbling trench walls. OSHA's standard
requires sloping or shoring for trenches or shields such as
trench boxes to protect workers. Although the company had been
incorporated for less than two years at the time of the cave-in,
the owner told OSHA investigators he had more than 35 years'
experience in the excavation business.
Specifically OSHA cited Richard E. Fowler, Inc., for six
alleged willful violations carrying $70,000 in penalties each,
including four instances of failing to slope or shore a trench
(one violation for each employee exposed in the trench); piling
spoils from the digging too close to the trench edge; and
undermining pavement near the trench, increasing the likelihood
of cave-in. OSHA also cited the company for four alleged serious
violations with proposed penalties of $7,000 each for failing to
train employees to work safely, failing to use hard hats, failing
to provide a safe means of exit from the trench and allowing
water to accumulate in the trench.
The Fowler trench project involved installing manholes and
laying water and sewer lines through a parking lot to prepare for
expansion of a nursing home. A specially trained rescue squad
from the Broward County Fire Department rescued the survivors and
recovered the body of the victim.
In 1985, OSHA established a nationwide special emphasis
inspection program focusing on trenching since it is one of the
most hazardous operations in the construction industry. As part
of this effort, the agency has conducted numerous seminars and
information sessions on trenching safety throughout the country.
Proper sloping, shoring and shielding, as required by OSHA
standards, can prevent most trenching accidents. Over the past
five years federal OSHA and states operating their own OSHA
programs have conducted more than 9,400 trenching inspections.
Almost 200 of these inspections resulted from fatalities.
OSHA sponsors a free consultation program through state
agencies or universities that can help construction companies
committed to working safely find the best ways to meet OSHA
trenching requirements. In addition, "Excavations," a 24-page
guide to the OSHA trenching standard, is available for $1.25
(order number 029-016-00167-1) from the Government Printing
Office, telephone (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250. This
booklet and additional materials also are available on the
Internet at http://www.osha.gov under "Technical Links,"
subcategory "Trenching and Excavation." Following this release
is a fact sheet on trenching safety.
Willful violations are those committed with an intentional
disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the
OSH Act and regulations.
A serious violation is defined as one in which there is
substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could
result, and the employer knew or should have known of the
Richard E. Fowler, Inc., has 15 working days to contest the
citations and proposed penalties before the independent
Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.