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Contractor Fined $5,800 for Trenching Violations That Resulted in Fatality

OSHA has cited an Albany, N.Y., construction contractor for five alleged serious violations after an unguarded, 9-foot-deep excavation at a Cohoes, N.Y., worksite collapsed and killed a worker inside the trench. The incident took place while the contractor was installing a storm sewer system.

The contractor, K & M Construction, faces $5,800 in proposed penalties.

OSHA found no willful violations and the maximum penalty for five serious violations is $35,000. An agency spokesperson explained that K & M was granted significant reductions in proposed penalties based on a formula OSHA uses to determine fine levels.

Asked if the fines were unusually low for a fatality case, the spokesperson replied, "The agency does not attempt to put a price on human life. All OSHA can do is cite based on the hazards present at the site."

The company received a 10-percent reduction because it has no previous history of OSHA violations and an additional small business discount of 60 percent because it has only six employees. Not all the citations were directly related to the fatality, resulting in further reductions.

Although OSHA standards require that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against the collapse of their sidewalls, the inspection determined that the excavation lacked any form of cave-in protection. The inspection identified additional hazards, including piles of excavated material placed too close to the trench's edge, no proper means for workers to exit safely from the trench, employees working underneath the operating bucket of a track-hoe removing soil from the trench and no protective helmets for workers.

The employee of the company died July 21, 2004, according to a Feb. 18 OSHA press release.

Trenching fatalities have risen every year since 2002, and there were 49 such deaths in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Efforts to reach K & M were unsuccessful.

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