OSHA Cites Contractor for Trenching Safety Hazards at N.H. Work Site

Safety hazards mainly involving an inadequately protected trench have resulted in $40,500 in proposed fines against a contractor excavating at a Portsmouth, N.H., work site.

Early & Sons Inc. of Bradford, Mass., was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for alleged willful, repeat and serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act following a May 2 inspection at an excavation site in Portsmouth.

When OSHA inspectors arrived at the site, they found an employee working in an excavation that had not been properly sloped or shored to protect against cave-ins. The company, which was cited previously for similar violations on the same street on April 8 and at another site on Oct. 19, 2000, received a citation for a willful violation for that situation. The company is also being cited for an alleged repeat violation for failing to support a section of pavement that had been undermined by the excavation. Early and Sons was previously cited for a similar violation at a Salem, N.H., site on Oct. 19, 2000.

Finally, the company was cited for alleged serious violations for failing to protect employees working in an excavation from the hazards posed by accumulating water, and for failing to protect an employee using a torch to cut pipe with proper eye and face protection.

"Improperly protected trenches can collapse suddenly and with great force," said David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire. "Workers can be instantly buried alive. OSHA was surprised to find some of the same violations that it found only a month before. It is inexcusable for an employer who is well aware of the requirements for excavation safety to repeatedly expose employees to such potentially fatal hazards."

A willful violation is defined by OSHA as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations. A repeat violation is defined as one where, upon reinspection, a substantially similar violation is found. OSHA defines a serious violation as one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew, or should have known, of the hazard.

Early & Sons Inc. has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to either elect to comply with them, to request an informal conference with the OSHA area director or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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