A trench collapse that killed a 21-year-old worker at an excavation site in Western Pennsylvania has led to the company owner pleading guilty in federal court to a criminal charge of “Willful Violation of an OSHA Regulation Causing the Death of an Employee.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Wayne A. George, the owner of a Pittsburgh-based company called A Rooter Man, pleaded guilty to the criminal charge Nov. 27. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21, 2018.
On Sept. 28, 2015, Jacob Casher, a Rooter Man employee who had just turned 21 days before the accident, was killed when the trench he was working in collapsed at a work site behind the Shelbourne Personal Care home.
Mr. Casher was helping to replace a sewer line in a trench nearly 12 feet deep containing unstable soil with no cave-in protection, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. He was working in these conditions under the direction of Wayne George, according to federal prosecutors.
According to the Butler Eagle, Mr. Casher was just about to leave the worksite for the day when he reentered the trench to grab a shovel. The walls of the trench collapsed on him, burying him underneath tons of heavy, wet soil.
His three other workers immediately jumped into the trench in an effort to save Mr. Casher. They eventually succeeded in uncovering his head and chest, but were unable to pull him from the soil, the Butler Eagle reported.
The Southern Butler County Technical Rescue Team, which the Butler Eagle says specializes in trench rescue, arrived at the scene of the trench collapse. It took them and two other rescue crews from two neighboring counties to free Mr. Casher.
“I think he died shortly after the cave in,“ Butler County Chief Deputy Coroner John Hanovick told the Butler Eagle. He pronounced the young man dead about 6 p.m. when trench rescue specialists recovered the body — four hours after the accident.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the law provides for a maximum total sentence of six months in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both for the charge Mr. George faces. Under Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Trench collapse deaths remain among the most common construction-related deaths in the U.S., despite OSHA’s efforts to raise awareness of trenching hazards and crack down on violators. In 2016, 23 trenching deaths were reported — more than double the number of trenching deaths in the previous year. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, trench collapses happen quickly with little or no warning and they are rarely survivable.