OSHA opened its inspection on July 26, 2007, after an agency inspector spotted Gherlone employees working in unprotected trenches seven to nine feet in depth. OSHA standards require that all trenches five feet or deeper be protected against collapse. As a result, OSHA issued the company one willful citation, with a proposed $56,000 fine, for the lack of cave-in protection. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.
“An unprotected trench can collapse in seconds, burying employees beneath tons of soil and debris before they can react or escape,” said Robert Kowalski, OSHA’s area director in Bridgeport. “The hazard is so severe that OSHA inspectors will stop and open an inspection on the spot whenever they observe an unprotected trench, as happened in this case.”
OSHA issued two repeat citations, carrying $9,000 in proposed fines, for hazardous conditions similar to those cited in a 2006 inspection of Gherlone at a West Haven job site. At that time, the company was cited for failure to provide a safe means of exit for employees from trenches and for failure to inspect the trenches for hazardous conditions. Repeat citations are issued when an employer has previously been cited by OSHA for substantially similar hazards and the citations have become final.
Six serious citations, with $8,400 in proposed fines, were issued for potential fall hazards from an unprotected walkway and unsecured ladders; exposure to potential injuries from loose rocks, debris and falling objects; a chain sling not marked with its lifting capacity; untrained employees operating a laser; and employees not trained to recognize ladder and fall hazards. A serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
Finally, two other-than-serious citations, with $1,200 in proposed fines, were issued for incomplete and inaccurate recording of occupational injuries and illnesses.
Detailed information on trenching and excavation safety, including an interactive e-Tool, is available on OSHA’s Web site at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/constructiontrenching/index.html.
Gherlone Excavating has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to request and participate in an informal conference with OSHA or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.