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OSHA News Release – Region 4
U.S. Department of Labor
Region 4 News Release: USDL: 99-211
Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1999
Contact: Jose Sanchez
PHONE: (954) 424-0242 ext. 29
CONTRACTOR FINED $126,000 FOR TRENCH SAFETY VIOLATIONS AT WEST PALM BEACH WORK SITE
The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration today cited Smith & Company, Inc., and proposed penalties totaling $126,000 for trench safety violations at the City Place construction site in West Palm Beach.
As site development and underground subcontractor, Smith & Company was responsible for cutting and re-routing an underground sewer. Company employees were preparing to perform the work when an OSHA compliance officer observed them in an unprotected trench nearly eight feet deep, four feet wide and 12 feet long. The OSHA inspector advised site supervisors to correct the hazards, but on two separate return visits during the day found that no action had been taken.
Even after being ordered by the site's general contractor to stop work until OSHA standards were met, Smith and Company continued to allow employees to work in the trench without adequate protection. To meet a deadline and complete the pipe replacement and tie-in work overnight, the trench was dug several feet deeper. By the time the OSHA inspector returned the next day, he found workers in an unsloped, unshored 14-foot-deep trench with nearly vertical walls.
As a result, OSHA fined Smith and Company $70,000 for one willful violation of trench safety standards which require that employees be protected from cave-in hazards while working in an excavation.
One repeat violation, with a penalty of $35,000, was also cited because excavated materials were left less than two feet from the top edge of the excavation causing greater likelihood of a cave-in because of the increased weight of soil at the edge of the trench.
The remaining $21,000 penalty was proposed for three serious safety violations. These included not providing a safe means of exiting the excavation, allowing employees in the trench to work underneath loads handled by a backhoe bucket, and allowing employees to work on the faces of slopes just above others working in an unprotected excavation.
"This employer ignored OSHA standards and made an informed, conscious decision to proceed with the work even though employees were exposed to imminent danger of cave-in," said Jose Sanchez, OSHA's Fort Lauderdale area director. "A willful citation was appropriate because of the company's blatant indifference to worker safety. In addition, OSHA had recently cited Smith & Company for similar violations at another site."
OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSH Act and regulations.
A serious violation is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result and that the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.
Repeat violations occur when an employer has been cited previously for a substantially similar condition and the citation has become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Smith and Company, headquartered in Weston, Fla., employs 766 workers company-wide. About 15 were working at the City Place site at the time of OSHA's inspection.
The company has 15 working days to contest OSHA's citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Inspection of the work site was conducted by OSHA's area office located at Jacaranda Executive Court, 8040 Peters Rd., Building H-100, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. 33324; telephone: (954) 424-0242.
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