Illinois Contractor Ordered to Notify OSHA of Jobsites to Protect against Cave-Ins

The U.S. Department of Labor is seeking an administrative court order requiring Gerardi Sewer & Water Co., a Norridge, Ill.-based contractor, to provide a monthly report of its work locations to OSHA, permit unannounced jobsite audits by qualified independent consultants and annually train workers on cave-in protection for the next two years.

“The company’s severe violator history has led us to seek this order to ensure that these worksites are safe for employees,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels. “Cave-ins are the leading cause of death in trenching operations, and Gerardi Sewer & Water Co. has demonstrated a history of blatant disregard for worker safety.”

The Labor Department filed an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission after the company contested 13 citations and $360,000 in penalties issued Dec. 17, 2010, by OSHA. In addition to asking the review commission to uphold the cited violations and penalties, the Labor Department is requesting the order for additional compliance requirements to assure the safety of workers on future jobsites.

The company received the citations for failing to protect workers from cave-ins during trenching operations noted in four separate inspections conducted in 2010 under the OSHA Trenching and Excavation Special Emphasis Program. The citations are for work performed for the Illinois villages of Elmhurst, Park Ridge, Oak Lawn and Des Plaines.

“This is only the second time that the department has invoked the statutory authority to order ‘other appropriate relief,” said Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith. “All available legal tools will be used where necessary to protect workers from future harm.” Margaret A. Sewell, a trial attorney in the Chicago Regional Office of the Labor Department’s Office of the Solicitor, filed the administrative complaint with the review commission.

Gerardi’s December citations meet the requirements of OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which is intended to focus OSHA enforcement resources on employers with a history of safety violations that endanger workers by demonstrating indifference to their responsibilities under the law. This enforcement tool includes mandatory OSHA follow-up inspections and inspections of other worksites of the same employer where similar hazards and deficiencies may be present.

Updated Jan. 21: A representative from Gerardi Sewer & Water Co. told EHS Today that “the company is questioning the citations” and is cooperating with OSHA and its attorneys. Gerardi is in the process of scheduling a conference as a means of resolving the citations and could not comment further on the alleged violations or court order.

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