OSHA cited Shelby Contracting Co. and proposed penalties totaling $123,200 for safety violations at an excavation site in Huntsville, Ala.
OSHA''s inspection began after one of the agency''s compliance safety and health officers observed workers installing a manhole in an unprotected, 29-foot deep trench.
Following an inspection of the job site, OSHA cited the company for two willful violations of trenching standards for allowing employees to work in a trench with no adequate protective system and no safe means of exiting the excavation.
The two willful citations carry proposed penalties totaling $112,000.
"To ensure worker safety in excavations more than 5 feet deep, walls must be sloped or shored or trench shields or boxes must be used," said Ramona Morris, acting area director for OSHA''s Birmingham office. "Failure to provide some kind of protective system exposes employees to the risk of cave-ins. Too many workers are trapped or killed when management makes the decision to shortcut safety."
Morris added, "In this case, employees were also placed at risk of falling back into the trench as they tried to exit it."
OSHA inspectors observed that the exit ladder at the worksite fell short of a ramp going to the top of the trench.
This left workers in the hazardous position of having to climb on all four limbs for 4 to 6 feet along the trench wall to reach the ramp.
In addition to the two willful citations, one repeat violation drew a proposed fine of $11,200 for failing to have a competent person inspect the trench. OSHA cited the company for a similar violation in 1999.
In explaining OSHA''s reason for issuing willful citations in this case, Morris said, "This employer was aware of the highly hazardous nature of trench work and knew this particular trench was unsafe but failed to take any action to protect workers whose lives were at risk."
Huntsville-based Shelby Contracting employs about 120 workers primarily in water, sewer and pipeline construction.
The company has 15 working days to contest OSHA''s citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
by Virginia Sutcliffe