Need for Trench Safety Stressed to Conn. Employers

The OSHA area director in Bridgeport, Conn., warns employers of the dangers of excavating work following the citation of Complete Construction Co.

OSHA cited Complete Construction Co. Inc., Bridgeport, Conn., for safety violations at a Shelton, Conn., water main installation site and has proposed $38,500 in penalties against the contractor.

The violations were discovered during an OSHA inspection initiated April 6, at trenches located in Shelton, said Clifford Weston, OSHA area director in Bridgeport.

"OSHA found that workers were exposed to cave-in and fall hazards while working in or accessing inadequately protected trenches up to 16 feet deep," said Weston. "In addition, the competent person onsite, the one with knowledge and authority to spot and correct hazards, neither addressed these hazards nor removed workers from exposure to them."

"Of particular concern is that, after documenting employees working in an unsafe trench on April 6, the OSHA inspector observed employees in another unsafe trench upon returning to the jobsite four days later," said Weston.

Specifically, Complete Construction Co. was cited for:

  • One alleged willful violation for employees working in trenches 5 to 6 feet deep and 16 feet deep, without proper protection against cave-ins;
  • Two alleged serious violations for employees exposed to falls of up to 16 feet while accessing a trench; and where hazardous conditions were visibly obvious, the competent person onsite did not take precautions and corrective actions or remove workers from exposure to the hazards.

Noting the increase in construction and excavation work prompted by warmer weather, Weston reminded employers to ensure that excavations 5 or more feet in depth by properly protected against collapse.

"Let''s not kid ourselves, unprotected trenches can be lethal; their sidewalls can collapse suddenly and with great force, burying workers beneath tons of soil and debris before they have a chance to react or escape," said Weston. "Forty-four American workers died and scores of others were injured in trench cave-ins in 1999, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best way to reduce the number of fatalities is to ensure that proper and effective collapse protection is in place and in use before employees enter an excavation."

Weston emphasized that excavation safety is a national emphasis program for OSHA.

If OSHA compliance officers encounter an excavation in the course of their duties, they will stop and examine it. If hazardous conditions are spotted, an inspection can be opened on the spot with violations resulting in citations and fines, Weston said.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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