- A Colorado state court has sentenced the owner of construction company to jail and ordered restitution for the family of a 50-year-old company worker who suffered fatal injuries in a trench collapse at a jobsite in June 2018.
- The Grand County Court of the State of Colorado sentenced Bryan Johnson, owner of Avon, Colorado-based ContractOne Inc., to 10 months in jail for two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of third-degree assault related to the death of Rosario Martinez. Johnson pleaded guilty to the charges last month.
- In its sentencing, the court also ordered Johnson to serve three years' probation, pay Martinez's family $25,000 in restitution, make contributions to local charities and complete safety training. He also must allow OSHA to inspect his worksites without an administrative warrant.
An OSHA investigation determined that Johnson had hired Martinez to install drywall and do carpentry work but failed to train him or his other workers to identify or avoid hazards related to trenching and excavation, according to an OSHA press release. At the time of the collapse, Martinez was installing a water service line at a Granby, Colorado, construction site.
The trench had collapsed the day before but Johnson ignored obvious signs to change his procedures, OSHA said. Martinez's son was on site, and assisted first responders in digging his father out of the trench. Martinez later succumbed to his injuries at a nearby hospital.
OSHA investigators found ContractOne willfully failed to use a trench protective system as required. The company also failed to conduct regular site inspections to correct potentially hazardous conditions; did not place excavated soil piles a safe distance from trench edges; failed to provide ladders for egress; and did not use appropriate utility location procedures during trenching operations.
OSHA has made reducing trenching and excavation hazards one of its top goals. According to the agency's website, to prevent cave-ins, contractors must keep trenches safe by one of three methods:
Sloping or benching trench walls.
Shoring trench walls with supports.
Shielding trench walls with trench boxes.
"Trenching is one of the most dangerous activities in the construction industry and Bryan Johnson failed to take any affirmative steps to protect employees, despite repeated warnings that work activities at the jobsite were hazardous," said OSHA Regional Administrator Nancy Hauter in the release.
In the past decade, the Labor Department has increased the amount of cases that it refers to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution, the release said. It has also forged more partnerships with state and local prosecutors to prosecute employers under state criminal statutes.
The prosecution of individuals within the community in which they work, and where the victim often resided, has a strong deterrent effect in the industry and sends a signal to the regulated community that certain behavior, especially that which results in significant harm to workers, will not be tolerated, the press release said.
"We believe that prosecuting criminal cases has the ability to change the industry," said U.S. Department of Labor Regional Solicitor John Rainwater in the press release.