U.S. safety regulators placed a Williamsport, Penn., bridge repair and construction company into its Severe Violator Enforcement program and hit it with proposed penalties of $140,000 following the death of a worker who was buried alive when made to work in a deep trench without the proper protections.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Susquehanna Supply Company Inc. of Williamsport, Penn., has an extensive history of safety violations stretching back to the early 1970s.
Despite its poor safety record, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation contracted Susquehanna Supply Co. to rehabilitate a small steel-frame bridge over the Little Fishing Creek in Millville, Penn.
On July 7, 2015, the company notified OSHA that one of its employees died in a trench collapse, prompting an investigation.
OSHA investigators determined the employee was working at the bottom of a trench about 12-15 feet deep on the outside of the bridge abutment when the adjacent trench wall collapsed and he was buried alive in soil. The worker had been shoveling soil from the base of the trench because it was not accessible by an excavator.
The investigators found that Susquehanna Supply Co. endangered the worker’s life because it put him in the bottom of a deep, unstable trench without shoring up the trench or giving the worker any of the required protections to prevent a collapse or cave-in from occurring.
“Susquehanna Supply Company took unacceptable risks with its workers’ lives by failing to comply with common-sense safety practices intended to prevent trenching tragedies such as this from occurring,” said Mark Stelmack, director of OSHA’s Wilkes-Barre, Penn. office. “Employers who expose workers to cave-in hazards from an unprotected trench place those employees’ lives in immediate jeopardy. This will not be tolerated.”
According to U.S. labor statistics, the fatality rate for trenching and excavation work is 112 percent higher than the rate for general construction, considered to be among the deadliest occupations in the U.S. Every month, 3-4 workers die on average in the U.S. in a trench cave-in or collapse.