OSHA began an investigation Oct. 8, after a Pitts Plumbing employee died from injuries sustained in a trench cave-in. Workers dug a 40-foot long, n9-foot deep trench, approximately 7-feet wide, that the victim entered to take measurements in preparation for the installation of two 2,500-gallon tanks. Another worker assisting him at ground level noticed that asphalt around the trench opening was beginning to crack. He called to his co-worker who tried to run to safety but was hit by the collapsing trench wall.
"This employer was aware of excavation safety requirements, but chose not to use protective devices," said Kurt Petermeyer, OSHA's acting area director in Savannah. "That decision ended in tragedy."
The company received one willful citation with a proposed penalty of $49,000 for failing to protect employees working in an excavation by using a trench box or by properly sloping the trench walls to prevent cave-ins. The agency issues a willful citation when an employer has shown an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.
OSHA also issued two citations for alleged serious violations with penalties totaling $2,550 for failing to provide workers with hard hats while working in the trench and for failing to provide a ladder long enough to allow employees to safely enter and exit the trench. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Petermeyer noted that employers might not comply with trenching and excavation standards because of time and cost concerns. He said OSHA has a national trenching and excavation emphasis program aimed at preventing unsafe conditions. Employers may request individual compliance assistance from local OSHA offices and attend agency-sponsored workshops. This part of the program is separate from the agency's strong enforcement effort, which allows OSHA staff to stop and inspect any trench or excavation that appears hazardous.
The company has 15 working days to contest the OSHA citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.