OSHA cited H.L. Crouse Construction, a pipeline contractor based in Walbridge, Ohio, for 14 alleged safety and health violations, including eight willful violations for failure to protect employees from cave-ins at six separate trenches, allowing water accumulation in trenches, and placing excavated soil close to unprotected trench walls.
"Trenching accidents are a major cause of job-related injuries and fatalities across the country. Measures can and must be taken to prevent such accidents," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. "These workers were placed at significant risk when their employer repeatedly failed to take basic precautions against a trench collapse. The $510,750 penalty should send a strong signal this blatant disregard for worker safety will not be tolerated."
What was most troubling to OSHA Administrator John Henshaw is that the company had already been warned on-site about the hazards, yet did nothing about it. "Our standards on preventing trenching accidents are clear. Given the conditions observed by OSHA compliance officers, it's fortunate that workers had not been injured. The action we have taken will help ensure that they won't have to continue to live with those risks," said Henshaw.
OSHA opened a scheduled inspection at the Columbus-area site on May 20 where Crouse Construction had begun excavation of the 150-mile long pipeline which, when completed, will transport approximately 80,000 barrels of petroleum daily from Kenova, W.Va. to Columbus, Ohio. The inspection revealed that various trenches were not protected against collapse, nor were there sufficient ladders or escape ramps inside. Further, OSHA inspectors also witnessed workers in ankle deep water in some of the trenches.
In addition to eight alleged willful violations, OSHA cited the company with six alleged serious violations for hazards associated with arc welding, means of egress from trenches, training for work in trenches, defective hoisting equipment, and no reflective gear for workers near highways. The alleged willful violations carry proposed penalties of $490,500, while a $20,250 penalty is proposed for the alleged serious violations.
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. Serious violations are defined as those for 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.
Crouse Construction has 15 working days from the date the citations were issued to contest them and the proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.