Trenching Failures Dig Deep Hole for Contractor

Dec. 14, 2001
Failure to provide a safe trenching operation for its workers could cost a Florham Park, N.J., contractor $77,000.

Failure to provide a safe trenching operation for its workers could cost Florham Park, N.J., contractor Onorato Construction Inc. some $77,000. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed that amount in for alleged willful violations of federal workplace safety standards.

An inspection was initiated when an OSHA compliance officer noticed workers in a 12-foot deep, unprotected excavation. The work is part of a project to widen a culvert traversing the Musconetcong River in Stanhope, N.J.

"Accidents, particularly cave-ins, in trenching operations are among the most preventable hazards that exist," said OSHA Area Director David Ippolito. "Yet, some contractors simply refuse to get the message that workers face serious dangers when not properly protected. Trenching excavations remain a serious threat to workers' lives."

New Jersey State Police, trained by OSHA as part of its New Jersey Highway Construction Work Zone partnership, repeatedly warned the company about the danger of a trench cave-in. The employer also received citations from OSHA for trench protection deficiencies in April

Additionally, the contractor allowed employees to work on the Musconetcong Bridge without fall protection, exposing them to a 12-foot life-threatening fall onto unprotected steel "I" beams.

The total proposed penalties for these two alleged willful violations is $77,000. A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with intentional disregard for, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the OSHA Act and its regulations.

The company has until Dec. 20 to appeal the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

edited by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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