Trenching Hazards Lead to $109,400 in Fines in Massachusetts

The repeated failure of two Ludlow, Mass., contractors to protect employees against cave-in hazards has resulted in $109,400 in fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

F&J Inc. was cited for alleged willful, repeat and serious violations following inspections at two sewer installation worksites in Palmer, Mass., while Baltazar Contractors Inc. was cited for an alleged willful violation following an inspection at a Milford, Mass., excavation site. OSHA previously cited both for failing to ensure cave-in protection.

In Palmer, OSHA cited F&J for an alleged willful violation after employees were observed working in an 8-foot-deep trench that was not adequately guarded against a collapse of its sidewalls. The company also was cited for an alleged repeat violation for storing excavated material less than two feet from the trench's edge and an alleged serious violation for employees not wearing hard hats in the excavation when there were overhead hazards. A total of $30,200 in fines is proposed.

F&J was cited for an alleged willful violation at another jobsite for placing a 4- to 5-foot-tall pile of excavated spoils at the edge of the trench's sidewalls, exposing employees working in the trench to a possible collapse of the walls. Citations also were issued for three alleged serious violations for employees not wearing hard hats in the excavation, no ladder or safe means of exit from the excavation from the trench and use of a damaged trench shield. Proposed fines total $31,200.

In Milford, Baltazar was cited for an alleged willful violation for allowing employees to work in an 8-foot-deep excavation that lacked cave-in protection. A fine of $48,000 is proposed.

"These contractors knew full well that cave-in protection was required, yet apparently elected to not provide it," said Ronald E. Morin, OSHA area director for central and western Massachusetts. "Excavation collapses are swift, sudden and often deadly. Thirty-one American workers died in such accidents in 2000. There's no excuse for employers failing to supply such a basic, common sense and legally required safeguard."

A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A repeat citation is issued when an employer has previously been cited for a substantially similar hazard and the citation has become final. A serious violation is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

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