OSHA fines PA contractor $140K after trench collapse death

Dive Brief:

  • The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has cited Susquehanna Supply Company Inc., a Pennsylvania-based bridge repair and construction company, for willful violations, fined the company $140,000 and placed it in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program for lack of cave-in protection after a worker died in a trench collapse.
  • OSHA said that on July 7, 2015, Susquehanna reported to the agency that a worker died in a trench collapse on a small steel-frame bridge rehab project for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. OSHA investigators found the employee had been working inside a 12-15-foot-deep trench on the outside of the bridge abutment when the adjacent trench wall collapsed.  According to OSHA, the worker was in the trench shoveling soil off the base of the abutment wall because it could not be reached by an excavator. When the trench wall collapsed, the worker was buried in soil.
  • Susquehanna, who OSHA said has an "extensive history" of violations dating back to the early 1970s, has 15 business days to contest the citations and penalties or to request an informal conference with the OSHA area director.

Dive Insight:

"Susquehanna Supply Company took unacceptable risks with its workers' lives by failing to comply with common-sense safety practices intended to prevent trenching tragedies such as this from occurring," Mark Stelmack, director of OSHA's Wilkes-Barre office, said in a release. "Employers who expose workers to cave-in hazards from an unprotected trench place those employees' lives in immediate jeopardy. This will not be tolerated."

Susquehanna isn’t alone in unsafe trenching practices. The third quarter of 2015 saw the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development fine an Alaska contractor $560,000 for a trench collapse that killed a worker. The agency said Hartman Construction’s lack of safety standards caused the trench collapse that trapped 23-year-old Samuel Morgan, and the company compounded the tragedy by fatally injuring him with two excavators while trying to rescue him.

In addition, OSHA fined a Massachusetts company $14,000 in November after one of its workers drowned after a pipe burst in an excavation site. The agency also fined a Kentucky contractor $42,000 in a trench collapse death, and two Texas contractors $424,000 and $88,000 for trench and excavation violations in separate incidents earlier in 2015.

OSHA is set to raise its fines by at least 80% this year to get in line with the Consumer Price Index. The agency hasn’t raised its fines since 1990.

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Top image credit: RBerteig