June 13, 2016
OSHA cites Nebraska construction companies after 61-year-old
plumber dies, co-worker injured in Alliance trench collapse
Employer, contractor ignored deadly hazards in excavation tragedy
ALLIANCE, NEb. - A mere 20 minutes after an 8-foot deep trench collapsed, burying a 61-year-old plumber under thousands of pounds of soil, emergency responders pronounced the man dead. Partially buried, his co-worker escaped the trench and frantically tried to rescue the man until help arrived.
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration found neither the men's employer, nor project's contractor provided trench cave-in protection for the workers as they installed sewer lines at a residential home project in the 2800 block of Toluca Street in Alliance on March 21, 2016.
Federal inspectors have cited both Clau Chin Construction LLC, the men's employer, and Larry Kessler Construction LCC, the project's contractor, with three serious violations following their investigation.
"This tragic death is a reminder of just how quickly an unprotected trench can become a death trap as a worker is buried under thousands of pounds of soil," said Jeff Funke, OSHA's area director in Omaha. "Soil dynamics are an unpredictable aspect of all trenching and excavations. Soil gives no warning prior to giving away, burying workers in just seconds. Inspection, protective systems and training are the difference between life and death in cases like these."
Research shows that a cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 lbs., the weight of a small automobile. Trenching and excavation are among the most dangerous construction activities, and cave-ins are often lethal to workers crushed or suffocated by thousands of pounds of soil and rock.
In addition to citing the companies for failing to provide trench protection, inspectors said the employers did not have a competent person inspect the trench before allowing workers to enter. The companies also permitted soil piles within two feet of the excavation site, also a violation.
OSHA has issued citations as follows:
- Clau Chin Construction of Alliance, the homebuilder, faces $31,000 in fines for five serious safety violations. View citations here.
- Larry Kessler Construction of Scottsbluff, the excavating contractor, faces fines of $21,000 for three serious violations. View citations here.
OSHA's trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet and that soil and other materials are kept at least two feet from the edge of trench.
Both companies have 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 Omaha area office at (402) 553-0171.
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 http://www.osha.gov.
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Release Number: 16-1139-KAN
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