Federal safety regulators hit a Birmingham, Ala.-based plumbing contractor with nearly $44,000 in fines for violations, saying the company “deliberately ignores OSHA safety standards, exposing its workers to trench cave-in hazards.”
Stephens Plumbing Inc., a commercial and residential plumbing contracting company, was performing trenching and excavation work on the Eastern Boulevard in Montgomery when an Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) inspector from the agency’s regional office in Mobile visited the work site.
OSHA initiated the inspection as part of its National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavation work – a national effort to drive down the number of worksite deaths and injuries that occur as a result of improperly safeguarded trenches.
The OSHA inspector saw workers at the Montgomery worksite working in a deep trench without any protection. The findings resulted in one willful violation for allowing workers to work in a trench more than five feet deep without cave-in protection.
Federal rules require excavation sites of five feet or deeper to be protected against sidewall collapses. Employers must shore of the sides of trench walls, slope the soil at a safe angle, or provide a protective trench box for workers to prevent or mitigate a collapse.
OHSA also cited Stephens Plumbing for four serious violations for its failure to train workers to recognize and avoid cave-in hazards, provide a safe way to enter and exit the excavation, ensure soil from the trench wasn’t placed directly on the edge of the trench, and for making employees work in an trench with an accumulation of water at the bottom.
“Stephens Plumbing knew the excavation was unsafe, but they put workers in the trench anyway, because management said ‘the job needed to get done’,” said Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile. “Luckily, a compliance officer was there to stop the work before a collapse occurred. It only takes seconds for trench to collapse and bury an employee under thousands of pounds of earth, often resulting in serious injury or death.”
Trenching and excavation cave-ins consistently rank as one of the deadliest hazards U.S. workers face. Since OSHA has the resources to send inspectors to ony a small fraction of excavation sites, it’s largely up to employers to guarantee their workers’ safety. Any company that takes risks with its employees could likely one day experience a workplace disaster, as this video poignantly demonstrates.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor