When a trench cave-in buried her son under tons of soil last December, Theresa O’Hare had to be held back physically from the owner of Arrow Plumbing LLC, a Blue Springs, Missouri company with a shoddy safety history.
Ms. O’Hare’s son Donald J. “D.J.” Meyer, 33, was made to work on a sewer line at the bottom a 12-foot-deep trench that was not shored up to prevent a cave-in as federal safety rules mandate. The worksite was at a Belton, Missouri residence.
According to The Kansas City Star, Ms. O’Hare re-lived some of that rage all over again when she learned that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had fined Arrow Plumbing more than $700,000 for safety violations that put not only her son D.J. in danger, but led to other workers losing their lives the same way – by being buried alive in a trench cave-in.
“I just could not believe it,” Ms. O’Hare told The Star. “Why couldn’t this man understand or learn his lesson from the death of my son?”
It was just five weeks after Mr. Meyer’s body was recovered that OSHA responded to a complaint against Arrow Plumbing involving a North Kansas City job site. There, inspectors observed two Arrow workers at the bottom of an unsecured trench that measured 8 to 12 feet deep and 2 to 3 feet wide. Federal safety rules require trench walls to be shored up and other protections in place anytime a worker enters a trench more than 5 feet deep.
Ricky Smith, the owner of Arrow Plumbing, told The Star after Mr. Meyer’s death that he didn’t know why Mr. Meyer had entered the unprotected trench.
“He said a metal trench box was available near the job site, and he didn’t know why Meyer hadn’t used it,” The Star reported. Mr. Smith also said Mr. Meyer knew what he was doing and had training in trenches before he went to work for Arrow.
However, OSHA officials said there was no trench box on the job site and that Arrow Plumbing had failed to “instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable.”
OSHA hit Arrow with $700,000 in penalties for safety violations. The penalty was second only this year to a Massachusetts construction company that OSHA fined $1.47 million after two workers were killed in an unprotected trench.
Dave Redlin, a construction safety consultant, told The Star that plumbing contractors frequently cut corners while performing trenching and excavation work, calling such safety lapses “an epidemic.”
According to The Star, “Trench-shoring enforcement has been one of OSHA’s top 10 areas of emphasis for three decades, far longer than any other workplace hazard. Yet trench deaths continue at an alarming rate.”
Last year, trench cave-ins killed 23 workers and injured 12. As of June 1, there have been 15 trench cave-in deaths and 19 injuries.
Tragically, Mr. Meyer left behind an 8-year-old son, Ashten, whose mother died four years previously due to a health condition.
“Every morning, my grandson would ask his daddy, ‘Are you coming back home?’ And Daddy would say ‘yes’ and they would hug and kiss each other,” Ms. O’Hare told The Star.