OSHA fines MA contractor $1.5M for 18 violations in fatal trench collapse

Dive Brief:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited a Massachusetts contractor with 18 safety violations and fined the company $1,475,813 in relation to a Boston trench accident that killed two workers in October 2016, according to an agency press release.  
  • Employees of Atlantic Drain Service Co., Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks, were killed while working in a 12-foot-deep trench that collapsed and broke a fire hydrant supply line. According to OSHA investigators, the trench filled with water within seconds.
  • OSHA said Atlantic did not provide basic trench safeguards and did not train employees to recognize hazardous conditions. The company and its owner, Kevin Otto, were charged earlier this year in a Suffolk County court with two counts of manslaughter and other charges related to the worker deaths.

Dive Insight:

OSHA has reported that two workers are killed every month in trench collapses, and last November, the agency found that 2016 trench fatalities had doubled since 2015.

Aside from Atlantic's almost $1.5 million fine, another notable element of this case is the fact that there is a press release at all. This marks the first public "shaming" citation and penalty announcement that OSHA has posted to its news releases page since President Donald Trump took office in January. While it once actively posted releases about enforcement action to that page, it now is largely reserved for announcements of safety initiatives and partnerships. However, the agency has included certain news of enforcement actions in its QuickTakes newsletters.

Under the Obama administration, the agency used the releases as a tool to call attention to violators, a quality that Edwin G. Foulke Jr., former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA under President George W. Bush, told Construction Dive last month was "not an effective safety tool." He said the agency's goal of protecting individuals through a safer workplace is an important one but that it should also seek a balanced approach to that objective by helping employers comply with regulations instead.

However, Ashley Kaplan, senior employment law attorney for ComplyRight, told Construction Dive"Deregulation does not necessarily mean compliance is simplified," as reduced federal regulations can lead to heightened potential for small businesses to violate labor laws when the guidelines aren't clear. 

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Filed Under: Legal/Regulation
Top image credit: RBerteig