One minute he was working in the 8-foot trench below ground. The next, he was being buried in it. His co-workers came to his rescue, digging him out with their bare hands. Moments after they pulled the injured man to safety, the unprotected trench collapsed again. The worker’s injuries were serious and he was transported to the hospital.
According to OSHA, the worker’s Houston-area employer, Hassell Construction Co. Inc., knew the Richmond, Tex. excavation site was dangerous, but failed to protect its workers. As a result, OSHA has cited Hassell Construction for 16 alleged safety violations, including six egregious willful violations for failing to protect workers inside an excavation from a cave-in. The company faces penalties totaling $423,900.
“For more than 2,500 years, man has known how to prevent deadly trench collapses. It is absolutely unacceptable that employers continue to endanger the lives of workers in trenches,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “An employer is responsible for providing a workplace safe from hazards. Hassell Construction failed to do that in this case.”
In addition to the willful violations, Hassell was cited for nine serious violations, including failing to remove debris from the edge of the excavation. The company also did not provide a safe means to get in and out of the excavation for workers or conduct atmospheric testing inside excavations after a sewer leak.
“Trench cave-ins are preventable,” said John Hermanson, OSHA’s regional administrator in Dallas. “There are long-established, basic precautions. They’re not new, and they’re not secret. Hassell Construction knew its trenches weren’t safe, but still put its workers in harm’s way.”
OSHA has placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The program concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference towards creating a safe and healthy workplace by committing willful or repeated violations, and/or failing to abate known hazards. It also mandates follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
Hassell Construction employs about 150 employees to help construct water and sewer lines in the Houston area. The employer has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.