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OSHA News Release
Region 5

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June 7, 2016

OSHA cites Aqua Ohio in trench collapse that led to the death
of a 28-year-old employee of the water and sewer utility
Regional utility cited for failing to protect workers in trenches in 2013

MENTOR, Ohio - As he helped widen a road on Station Street in Mentor, a 28-year-old water and sewer utility worker suddenly found himself buried beneath thousands of pounds of soil when a trench, more than 5-feet deep in which he worked, collapsed on him. Hours later, his injuries led to the man's death in a nearby hospital.

One cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 lbs. - the weight of a small automobile - giving the man, the father of a newborn and two other children, little chance of survival as he connected water lines beneath the ground. Trenching and excavation work are among the construction industry's most dangerous jobs and, each year hundreds of workers in unprotected trenches are crushed or suffocated.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found his employer, Aqua Ohio Inc., did not provide trench cave-in protection for its employees. OSHA cited the company for one repeated and five serious safety violations on June 6, 2016, after the agency completed its investigation into the March 29, 2016, death.

This is second time OSHA has cited the water and sewer utility company for putting its employees at risk in unprotected trenches. In November 2013, the agency cited Aqua Ohio for a similar violation at a job site in Ashtabula and fined the company in January 2014.

"This young man's death was preventable. It is unacceptable that Aqua Ohio again risked the lives of its employees in an unprotected trench," said Howard Eberts, OSHA's area director in Cleveland. "The company knows cave-in protection is required in a trench more than 5-feet deep, but their failure to comply cost a man his life."

While investigating the fatality OSHA found Aqua Ohio:

  • Failed to trained workers in recognizing trench hazards.
  • Did not provide trench cave-in protection.
  • Failed to protect workers from excavated material failing or rolling into a trench or failing from inside the trench walls.
  • Did not have a competent person make worksite inspections.

Proposed penalties total $44,800. View citations here.

OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least two feet from the edge of trench.

A subsidiary of Aqua America, Inc., Aqua Ohio is a water and sewer utility operator in 17 Ohio counties with 33 water treatment facilities, three wastewater treatment facilities with more than 2,200 miles of main and 141,434 water connections. Its parent company is a publicly traded water and wastewater utility holding company with operating subsidiaries serving approximately three million residents in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Indiana and Virginia.

Based in Boardman, Aqua Ohio 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.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Cleveland office at 216-447-4194.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit

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Media Contacts:

Scott Allen, 312-353-6976,
Rhonda Burke, 312-353-6976,

Release Number: 16-1140-CHI

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