A California pipeline company faces penalties of $242,500 for a deadly trench collapse it could have prevented had it followed basic safety rules.
According to Cal/OSHA, on July 27 of last year, Platinum Pipeline Inc. of Livermore ordered its employees to grade the bottom of an unsecured 14-foot-deep trench even when it identified the soil as unstable.
The workers, who were given no protection from a possible trench cave-in, were digging trenches to install two storm drain pipes at a residential construction site in Daly City. Three of the five workers were trained and competent in excavation processes and hazards, but they left one side of the trench unsecured because of concerns that a nearby utility pole might topple.
One of the workers noticed a large crack in the soft dirt of the unprotected wall. The two workers at the bottom of the trench “were instructed to be cautious but work was allowed to proceed,” Cal/OSHA said. When the unprotected wall collapsed, one of the workers was able to escape but the other was fatally crushed.
Cal/OSHA investigated the trench collapse and cited Platinum Pipeline for 10 safety violations, including two classified as willful-serious, accident-related. Those violations were issued for the company’s failure to ensure that employees stayed out of the trench until an adequate protective system was put in place and for failing to remove workers from an excavation after a competent person observed cave-in hazards.
The serious violations included the employer’s failure to secure the utility pole and various excavation safety hazards, such as placing excavated material too close to the edge of the excavation.
The agency classified the remaining three as general.
Cal/OSHA observed that over one representative five-year period, 26 California workers were killed and 207 others injured in trench collapses. In almost every instance, the cause of these accidents was a failure to properly shore or slope the trench.
“Excavations must be properly shored, sloped or shielded before workers enter,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “The employer overseeing this operation understood the hazards, but did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers.”