OSHA News Release - (Archived) Table of Contents|
News Release USDL: 97-147
Wednesday, April 30, 1997
Contact: Susan Hall Fleming, (202) 219-8151
New Jersey And Pennsylvania Trenching Cases Also Cited
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 hazard.
Richard E. Fowler, Inc., has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
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