Moeves' OSHA History Raises Questions for Parents of Worker Killed in Trench Cave-In

When OSHA announced in February that Moeves Plumbing Inc. of Cincinnati had been cited and fined $150,000 for serious and willful violations, it opened old wounds for Jeffrey Walters and Michelle Marts.

Two workers already have died while digging trenches for the company, the subject of 13 previous OSHA inspections dating back to 1989. Patrick Walters, the most recent victim and the only son of Marts and Walters, died June 14, 2002, only weeks after OSHA cited the company for willful trenching violations. In 1989, another worker died while working in a trench for the company.

Walters and Marts charge the company continues to endanger workers, and say that by not referring the company for criminal prosecution following the death of their son, OSHA has failed in its mission to protect workers.

"Don't believe everything you read," commented Moeves's owner Linda Moeves when asked about the most recent OSHA citation. "I think you would be wise to call my attorney." An attorney for Linda Moeves declined to comment on his client's OSHA inspection record.

Willful Violation Was Changed to 'Unclassified'

In the recent enforcement action, OSHA issued citations for three alleged willful violations and one serious violation of workplace health and safety standards involving trenching and excavation operations.

In fact, the timing of the recent action against Moeves appears to be tied to OSHA's settlement of the Walters case, exposing the strengths -- and perhaps the limits -- of the agency's enforcement strategy.

After conducting the 2002 fatality inspection, OSHA originally cited Moeves for a willful violation, but the case was later settled and the willful was changed to "unclassified."

Given the company's long history of trenching violations, Walters said he cannot understand why the violation that led to his son's death was not willful, a classification that would have made a criminal prosecution of Moeves possible.

"OSHA agreed to the unclassified settlement to avoid prolonged litigation and to achieve immediate increased protections," explained Brad Mitchell, an agency spokesperson. Mitchell said the settlement led Moeves to agree to two safety measures:

  • The hiring of a consultant for 2 years to oversee the trenching operations, with the requirement that the consultant report directly to OSHA on the trenching operation in order to ensure compliance; and
  • Increased training requirements for supervisors and non-supervisors, beyond the standard 30-hour training courses.

The 2-year agreement expired Dec. 31, 2004, and this is why OSHA is inspecting Moeves again. "With turnover, the new people may not be getting it," he explained.

The most recent inspection took place in August -- 4 months before the settlement agreement ended.

Walters: Moeves Has 'Gotten Away with Murder'

The way OSHA has handled Moeves outrages Walters and Marts.

"Linda Moeves said it was my son's fault that he died and that's what OSHA determined -- my son was not there to defend himself," Walters said. "The message is the company was not at fault."

Walters is also upset that while companies can appeal OSHA rulings, the families of victims cannot. The most recent enforcement action against Moeves confirms his view that OSHA's enforcement strategy is a failure and that Linda Moeves has "gotten away with murder."

"She's killed two people now, and she'll probably kill two people again -- it's obvious she's not listening to what they're telling her."

Both Walters and Marts believe that OSHA cut a special deal with Moeves in 2002 because she was a neighbor of OSHA area director Richard Gilchrist, a charge OSHA denies. The agency maintains Gilchrist recused himself from the Moeves case.

Walters and Marts both still live in the Cincinnati area and continue to see Moeves trenching operations. They say they are infuriated when they see Moeves employees still working inside trenches with no cave-in protections -- the same conditions that killed their son.

"I think something dishonest was done to protect Linda Moeves," Marts said. "What was done to protect Patrick? And what's being done to protect workers now?"

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