- The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development has fined Alaska contractor Hartman Construction $560,000 for its "willful failure to adhere to safety standards" in connection with the June workplace death of 23-year-old Samuel Morgan, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.
- State officials said Morgan was laying sewer pipe when the trench he was standing in collapsed. They said David Hartman, one of the company’s owners, and other workers on the site fatally injured him with two excavators while trying to rescue him.
- State officials said criminal charges are possible, but they rdferred the question to the Department of Law’s Criminal Division. The department also has the option to monitor Hartman Construction under the Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which would allow it to track the company’s future contracts. An investigation found no prior incidents with the department or with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Heidi Drygas, the commissioner of the Department of Labor, said the steep fine was meant to deter future safety violations in the construction field.
"This avoidable tragedy deserves the full attention of every employer in the construction industry," Drygas said in a statement. "Every employer who has ever thought about cutting corners on safety should view this case as a severe warning that failure to provide the necessary and adequate protections for Alaska’s workers will not be tolerated."
In addition to failing to provide a safe workplace, Hartman was also cited for failure to provide adequate access and egress from the trench, failure to protect employees from loose rock and soil, failure to properly locate spoil piles, failure to use a protective system in the excavation, and failure to properly bench or slope the excavation.
Also, in a report, state officials wrote that before the accident, "the employer identified a section of the trench wall that had sloughed off and marked the area with traffic cones, yet the protective trench box at the site was not assembled to allow for its use and there were no ladders at the site for safe trench access at the time of the incident."
Alaska’s OSHA program is a state one and falls under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Division of Labor Standards and Safety.
However, federal OSHA has also been on an accelerated safety campaign of its own, especially when it comes to trench and excavation safety. In November, OSHA fined a Massachusetts company $14,000 after one of its workers drowned in an excavation site when a pipe burst. Earlier this year, 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.
Next year, OSHA will most likely raise its fines by more than 80%, in accordance with the new budget bill, which mandates OSHA bring its fines into line with the Consumer Price Index. OSHA has not made an adjustment in its fines since 1990.