Four Contractors Failed to Protect Workers, Says OSHA

OSHA proposed fines against four\r\ncontractors from New Hampshire and Vermont who allowed their\r\nemployees to work in unprotected excavations at various jobsites.

OSHA proposed a total of $153,700 in fines against four contractors from New Hampshire and Vermont who allowed their employees to work in unprotected excavations at various jobsites in Concord, Keene and Portsmouth, N.H.

The alleged violations were discovered during OSHA inspections conducted between July 31 and Aug. 4, 2000, and chiefly concern the contractors'' failure to provide proper and adequate cave-in protection for excavations in which their employees worked.

"Before an employee enters an excavation that''s 5 feet or deeper, the sidewalls of that excavation must be protected against collapse by shoring, sloping the soil at a shallow angle or by use of a protective trench box," said David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire. "Otherwise, the walls can collapse, swiftly and without warning, crushing workers beneath tons of earth and debris before they have a chance to react or escape."

The four companies cited were:

  • SUR Corp., of Rochester, N.H., faces $52,000 in fines following an inspection at a sewer line installation in which employees were working in an unprotected 10-foot deep excavation;
  • Severino Trucking of Candia, N.H., faces $45,800 in penalties following an inspection at a water line repair site in which employees were working in an unprotected 7-foot deep excavation;
  • SCI Group of Newport, Vt., faces fines of $38,500 following an inspection at a water line installation site in which employees were working in an unprotected 8-foot deep excavation;
  • F.L. Merrill Construction Inc., of Pembroke, N.H., faces penalties of $17,500 following an inspection at a hydrant installation site in which employees were working in an inadequately protected 6 1/2-foot deep excavation.

"Two things are particularly disturbing here: that we found four unguarded excavations in three different sections of New Hampshire in a week''s time and that each of these contractors have previously been cited for the same type of hazard," said May.

May noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 36 American workers died in trench cave-ins in 1998, and emphasized that excavation safety has long been a special emphasis for OSHA, with the safety agency often conducting spot inspections.

"An employer should not assume that OSHA won''t inspect the jobsite, no matter where it is located. If OSHA compliance officers encounter a excavation during their normal business travels, they will stop and examine it. If hazards, such as a lack of collapse protection, are observed, an inspection will be opened on the spot and violations will result in citations and penalties," said May.

"The simple fact is that no job, no deadline, is an excuse for failing to supply this standard, commonsense safeguard for workers," he said. "An employer who sends workers into an unprotected excavation is gambling with more than the risk of an OSHA inspection, that employer is gambling with workers'' lives."

May urged Granite State employers and employees with questions regarding trenching safety or other workplace safety and health standards to contact the OSHA area office in Concord at (603) 225-1629.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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