Improper Excavation Procedures Contribute to Death of Construction Worker

A Texas construction firm is facing a proposed fine of $238,000 following a trenching fatality that claimed the life of a Hispanic construction worker, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Pate & Pate, LLC, an underground utility construction firm based in The Woodlands, Texas, was cited for nine alleged safety and health violations, including three willful violations, for not protecting employees involved in excavation work from cave-in hazards. The fatal accident occurred on Jan. 4, when the 17-year-old pipe layer was struck by the collapsing wall of an approximately 20-foot deep trench and suffered fatal blunt force injuries and asphyxia.

"This is why OSHA has tough standards to prevent trenching accidents, and we are enforcing these standards aggressively," said Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. "Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and I'm committed to guaranteeing that right."

John Henshaw, OSHA administrator, added that he found it troubling that Pate & Pate lost four workers in the last four years; three of the deaths were related to trenching operations. "What's more," added Henshaw, "this case represents the eighth trenching accident involving the employer since 1998. These tragedies could have been avoided, and these workers would be alive today had their employer provided basic protection."

The most recent fatality occurred while the company was laying approximately seven miles of water pipeline near Alba, Texas. One of 15 employees in the pipe-laying crew died of injuries because he was allowed to work outside the protection of a trench box. OSHA's investigation found that the employer permitted these same working conditions over the preceding five months when more than 6.5 miles of the pipe had been installed.

OSHA cited Pate & Pate with three alleged willful violations for failing to protect workers from cave-in hazards on three separate occasions during the project. The alleged willful violations carry a total proposed penalty of $210,000. The company also received citations for six alleged serious violations, with proposed penalties of $28,000, for hazards associated with entry to confined spaces, and fall and impalement dangers.

Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and OSHA regulations, or plain indifference to employee safety and health. A serious violation is defined as one in which there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard.

Pate & Pate has 15 working days to contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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