Trenching Death Leads to $89,000 in Fines for Warwick Contractor

The Feb. 21 death of a worker in a Woonsocket, R.I., trench collapse could have been prevented if his employer had supplied the required protection against cave-ins, according to OSHA, which issued fines of $89,000.

Two employees of Greenwood Plumbing, Heating and Solar Inc., a plumbing contractor doing business as Mr. Rooter, were repairing a sewer line inside an eleven-foot-deep trench at 60 Mendon Road when the trench's sidewalls gave way, fatally burying one of the workers.

OSHA's inspection found that the employer failed to provide a protective trench box or other form of effective cave-in protection, had not trained the workers to recognize trenching hazards, allowed excavated material to be placed at the lip of the trench, and failed to have a competent person inspect the trench in order to identify and correct unsafe conditions. As a result, the company faces $89,000 in fines for alleged willful and serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

"Workers should never have been allowed into this trench, given the conditions at this jobsite," said Kipp W. Hartmann, OSHA's Rhode Island area director. "The most basic worker safeguards were absent. The result was both a needless loss of life and a textbook example of why cave-in protection is a necessity whenever employees enter a trench more than five feet in depth."

OSHA is proposing a fine of $70,000, the maximum fine allowed under law, for the willful citation for the lack of cave-in protection. An additional $19,000 in fines are proposed for three serious citations for the lack of training and inspections and the storage of materials at the trench's edge.

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 and regulations, while a serious violation as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director, or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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