Potential Trenching Hazards Bring $99,400 in Fines to Coushatta Empire Inc.

Failure to protect employees from potential trenching and excavation hazards has resulted in $99,400 in proposed OSHA penalties for Coushatta Empire Inc. of Oakdale, La.

Coushatta Empire, a trenching and excavation utility contractor employing 130 workers, was cited with six alleged safety violations following an OSHA inspection on Nov. 14, 2002, at the company's worksite in Lafayette, La. Compliance officers were driving by the construction site when they observed the violations.

'From previous inspections, OSHA has found that Coushatta continues to ignore proper OSHA trenching regulations that can save lives,' said Gregory Honaker, OSHA's Baton Rouge area director. 'Fortunately, the employees working in this 14-foot deep trench were removed without incident.'

The alleged willful violation was issued for failing to protect employees from the hazards of a cave-in while working at the base of a trench approximately 14 feet deep. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of or plain indifference to the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Two alleged serious violations were issued for failing to post construction traffic warning signs and failing to provide employees with reflective work vests while working at and near the roadway. A serious violation is one that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

Three alleged repeat violations were issued for failing to provide employees with protective hats, failing to provide a ladder for employees to get into and out of the trench and placing soil from the trench within two feet from the trench's edge. A repeat violation is defined as a violation that was previously cited where, upon re-inspection, a substantially similar violation is found. Couchatta Empire was fined almost $3,000 as a result of OSHA's inspection on Sept. 18, 2001, for the same violations.

Coushatta Empire Inc. has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the Baton Rouge area office, or to contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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