Trenching Fines Top $100,000 for Contractor

May 4, 2000
Rhode Island company has been cited 21 times previously for trenching safety violations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed $102,500 in fines against a company cited 21 times since 1993 for trenching safety violations.

C.B. Utility Co. Inc., a Bristol, R.I., contractor working on a Warwick, R.I., sewer line installation project, for alleged willful, repeat and serious violations.

According to Kipp W. Hartmann, OSHA area director for Rhode Island, the alleged violations were discovered during inspections of three sewer line excavations in Warwick and chiefly concern inadequate protection against cave-ins for employees working in trenches more than nine feet in depth. The company was also cited for not adequately training employees to recognize and avoid hazards associated with working near energized overhead power lines.

"There are no halfway measures when it comes to trenching," Hartmann said. "The speed and force of a trench collapse can bury a worker under tons of crushing earth literally in a heartbeat."

The first inspection began Nov. 1 after OSHA learned of an instance in which a C.B. Utility worker contacted an overhead power line. While investigating that incident, an OSHA inspector identified two unprotected trenches. Three days later, inspectors returned to the job site and found employees working in another inadequately protected trench.

The size of the fines proposed reflects the classification of two of the citations as willful and the company''s long history of trenching safety violations.

In this latest case, employees were exposed to cave-in hazards while working in unprotected areas of the trenches and while working in trench boxes that were defective or too small for the trenches in which they were placed. In one instance, a supervisor watched while an employee worked in an unprotected section of a trench.

"There is no excuse none for an employer to fail, time and again, to supply the basic, simple and well-recognized safeguards, which will absolutely and completely protect workers laboring in trenches," Hartmann said. "Though no fatalities or serious injuries occurred in this case, 36 American workers lost their lives in construction-related trench collapses in 1998. For every one that died, another 50 suffered serious injuries, such as broken bones and internal organ damage, caused by the crushing weight of the falling earth."

Detailed information and resources on excavation safety are available on OSHA''s Web site,, by clicking on the following links: "Outreach," "Construction," "Construction Topics" and "Trenching and Excavation."

by Todd Nighswonger

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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