Alabama Company Agrees to Pay $73,000 to Settle OSHA Violations

An underground utility contractor with a history of trenching violations agrees to pay $73,000 in penalties after being cited for exposing employees to trenching hazards.

An underground utility contractor in Talladega, Ala., with a history of trenching violations has agreed to pay $73,000 in penalties after being cited for exposing employees to trenching hazards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Phipps Construction Co. Inc., for alleged willful and repeat violations of trench safety standards after inspecting a Lincoln, Ala., job site where the company was performing boring operations in connection with sewer pipe installation.

"The potential for tragedy at this site was real," said Robert Sanchez, OSHA's Birmingham area director. "Excavation walls that are not sloped, shored, or otherwise protected can collapse without notice burying and killing workers trapped within. "

Acting under a Trenching National Emphasis Program which allows self-referrals, OSHA compliance officers initiated an inspection April 24 when they observed employees working in an unprotected trench. Failure to provide a protective system for employees working in the excavation, which was greater than six feet deep, resulted in one alleged willful citation; one alleged repeat citation was issued for failing to perform daily inspections of the trench.

"We cited Phipps Construction in 1999 and 2000 for trenching violations, and again earlier in April 2001 for similar violations on two nearby job sites," said Sanchez. "We found the same kinds of violations again during this inspection. In fact, two days after the inspection was completed, employees continued to enter excavations without protection against potential cave-in."

The company agreed to settle the remaining two OSHA cases completed in April 2001 for an additional $32,000.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. OSHA defines a repeat violation as one which occurs when an employer has been cited previously for a similar condition and the citation has become a final order of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

edited by Sandy Smith

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