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Company Cited For Alleged Willful Violation In Trench Collapse

Federal OSHA stepped in to cite a company in California, a state-plan state, for serious and willful violations of federal safety standards following an investigation into the death of an employee when a trench collapsed.

OSHA cited Lompoc, Calif.-based excavation company R. Williams Construction Co., issuing proposed penalties of $91,000, for violating federal laws which require specific precautions to prevent cave-ins.

The federal OSHA investigation of R. Williams was prompted by the Sept. 19, 2002 death of an employee working at the Chumash Casino Project near Santa Ynez, Calif. The employee was working at the bottom of a 70-foot long, 10-foot deep trench being prepared for a new sewer line. The employee and a co-worker were buried when the trench collapsed on top of them. The co-worker was rescued quickly, and survived with serious injuries.

The violations are particularly egregious because the employer was hired based upon its expertise with underground construction. "OSHA excavation and trenching standards clearly state what safeguards must be in place to protect workers in this type of construction," said Chris Lee, OSHA deputy regional administrator in San Francisco. "This employer knowingly placed workers at significant risk by failing to take the most basic precautions against trench collapse."

According to OSHA investigators, several workers claimed the employer asked them to sign a statement that they had received training in trenching work when, in fact, they had not. The workers also reported that the statement was in English although some employees, including the injured employee, could not speak, read or write English.

R. Williams Construction received a citation for one alleged willful violation, with penalties of $70,000, for failing to comply with requirements that trench walls be sloped at an angle of no more than 34 degrees. According to OSHA investigators, the trench that failed had vertical walls from the bottom of the excavation to a height of about five feet, and then sloped back from the trench at an angle of approximately 45 degrees.

The company received a citation for three alleged serious violations, with fines of $7,000 each. The alleged serious violations were failure to provide a stairway, ramp or other means of escape; failure to have a qualified person inspect the excavation and all protective systems on an ongoing basis during the work shift; and for not instructing employees in how to spot and avoid unsafe conditions in the hazardous excavation environment.

R. Williams Construction also received a citation for a single violation, without penalty, for failing to protect workers from being injured by lose rock or soil falling into the excavation.

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