The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined a 150-employee Houston contractor almost half a million dollars for what the agency called “egregious, willful violations” after a worker was seriously injured when a below-ground trench collapsed.
In a tersely worded statement, John Hermanson, OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas, said Hassell Construction, which specializes in highway work, “knew its trenches weren’t safe, but still put its workers in harm’s way.”
The $423,900 fine covers 16 safety violations ranging from failing to protect workers inside an excavation from a cave-in to failing to remove debris from the edge of the excavation. OSHA also said the company did not provide workers with a safe way to enter and exit the excavation or conduct atmospheric testing inside the excavation after a sewer leak.
No other laborers were injured when the trench collapsed, but because OSHA determined that their employer deliberately put the crew in harm’s way, it has placed Hassell Construction in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program for repeat offenders and those who willfully violate safety regulations.
“Trench cave-ins are preventable,” Hermanson said in the statement. “There are long-established, basic precautions. They’re not new, and they’re not secret."
David Michaels, the assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, added a caution for contractors in a statement: “For more than 2,500 years, man has known how to prevent deadly trench collapses. It is absolutely unacceptable that employers continue to endanger the lives of workers in trenches.”
Michaels told reporters there are more construction site fatalities in Texas than in any other state. “Workers are not being given adequate protection,” he said.