Trenching Fines Top $100,000 for Contractor

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

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