Region 1 News Release: BOS 2000-115
Thursday, August 17, 2000
Contact: Ted Fitzgerald
PHONE: (617) 565-2074
OSHA PROPOSES OVER $150,000 IN FINES AGAINST FOUR CONTRACTORS FOR ALLEGEDLY FAILING TO PROTECT WORKERS AGAINST CAVE-IN HAZARDS IN CONCORD, KEENE AND PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed a total of $153,700 in fines against four contractors from New Hampshire and Vermont who allegedly allowed their employees to work in unprotected excavations at various jobsites in Concord, Keene and Portsmouth, N.H.
According to David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire, the alleged violations were discovered during OSHA inspections conducted between July 31 and August 4, 2000, and chiefly concern the contractors' failure to provide proper and adequate cave-in protection for excavations in which their employees worked.
"Before an employee enters an excavation that's five feet or deeper, the sidewalls of that excavation must be protected against collapse by shoring, sloping the soil at a shallow angle or by use of a protective trench box," he said. "Otherwise, the walls can collapse, swiftly and without warning, crushing workers beneath tons of earth and debris before they have a chance to react or escape."
"Two things are particularly disturbing here: that we found four unguarded excavations in three different sections of New Hampshire in a week's time and that each of these contractors have previously been cited for the same type of hazard," May said.
May noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 36American workers died in trench cave-ins in 1998, and emphasized that excavation safety has long been a special emphasis for OSHA, with the safety agency often conducting spot inspections:
"An employer should not assume that OSHA won't inspect their jobsite, no matter where it's located. If OSHA compliance officers encounter a excavation during their normal business travels, they will stop and examine it. If hazards, such as a lack of collapse protection, are observed, an inspection will be opened on the spot and violations will result in citations and penalties."
"The simple fact is that no job, no deadline, is an excuse for failing to supply this standard, commonsense safeguard for workers," he said. "An employer who sends workers into an unprotected excavation is gambling with more than the risk of an OSHA inspection, that employer is gambling with workers' lives."
A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.
A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.
A repeated violation is cited when OSHA has previously cited an employer for a substantially similar violation and that citation has become final.
May urged Granite State employers and employees with questions regarding trenching safety or other workplace safety and health standards to contact the OSHA area office in Concord at 603-225-1629 and added that OSHA's toll-free, nationwide hotline --1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742)-- may be used to report workplace accidents or fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, especially if they occur outside of normal business hours.
OSHA is empowered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to issue standards and rules requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces and jobsites, and to assure through workplace inspections that those standards are followed.
The company has 15 working days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and ksites in Hopkinton, Epsom, Concord and Manchester, NH]
Two alleged Serious violations, with proposed penalties of $1,800, for using a ladder in the excavation which did not extend at least 3 feet above the rim of the excavation, and failure to ensure employees wore eye protection when operating a rotary cutoff saw.
SCI Group, PO Box 909, Citizens Road, Newport, VT.
Jobsite: Thaxter Road in Portsmouth, NH. Total proposed penalties: $38,500
- One alleged Willful violation, with a proposed penalty of $38,500, for allowing employees to work in an 8-foot deep excavation whose walls were not adequately shored or sloped against collapse.
[SCI Group had previously been cited for violating this safety standard, or its equivalent, three times between June 1998 and January 2000, at worksites in Berlin, NH, Derby, VT and Bath, Maine.]
F.L. Merrill Construction, Inc., 619 Sand Road, Pembroke, NH.
Jobsite: Union Street @ Maple Street, Concord, NH. Total proposed penalties: $17,400
- One alleged Repeat violation, with a proposed penalty of $15,000, for allowing employees to work in a 6½ foot deep excavation that was not properly shored or sloped against collapse and for previously using a shield system that had not been maintained in accordance with a professional engineer's specifications;
[F.L. Merrill Construction, Inc. had been previously cited for violating this safety standard, or its equivalent, five times between July 1997 and December 1999 at worksites in Tilton, Concord, Northwood and Somersworth, NH].
- Two alleged Serious violations, with $2,400 in proposed penalties, for failing to provide a support system for curbing, sidewalk and roadway that had been undermined; and failure to provide a grasping device fore a ladder that did not extend three feet above the rim of the excavation.