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Fla. worker trapped, injured in trench collapse

Management repeatedly warned of unsafe conditions

July 18, 2014
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trenchA company whose employee was critically injured in a trench collapse repeatedly ignored warnings that the excavation was unsafe – including one on the day of the incident.

An employee of R.E. Arnold Construction Inc. was trapped when the wall of an excavation he was working in collapsed around him as he was removing dirt from a storm filtration system. He had to be rescued by local fire and rescue teams and left the scene in critical condition.

Inspector refused to enter the trench

A Gainesville city safety inspector informed management numerous times that the excavation was unsafe, yet safety issues were not corrected. On the day of the incident, an inspector refused to enter the trench, claiming that it was too dangerous. The company was building a retaining pond and pump station for Depot Park in the city of Gainesville.

As a result of the incident, OSHA has cited R.E Arnold with one willful and two serious safety violations. The subcontractor, Suntree Technologies Inc., was cited for four serious safety violations.

"These employers deliberately chose not to follow established OSHA standards for protecting workers in excavations and repeatedly ignored warnings — including one on the day of the incident — that the trench was unsafe," said Brian Sturtecky, OSHA's area director in Jacksonville. "This shortcut led to a worker seriously injured and nearly killed."

R.E. Arnold was issued a willful citation for failing to provide employees working in a 15-foot-deep excavation with required protection from wall collapse hazards.

The standards

OSHA standards require that all trenches and excavation sites 5 feet or deeper be protected against sidewall collapses. Protection may be provided through shoring of trench walls, sloping of the soil at a shallow angle or by using a protective trench box. OSHA has created a National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation.

The serious citations were issued to R.E. Arnold for exposing workers to dangerous safety and fall hazards by failing to provide them with hard hats and fall protection equipment.

Falling debris

Suntree Technologies was cited for four serious safety violations for failure to provide fall protection for employees working at heights above 6 feet. Additionally, management did not ensure workers were wearing hard hats while inside the excavation, exposing them to hazards from falling debris.

OSHA has proposed penalties of $83,000 for R.E. Arnold and $18,200 for Suntree Technologies. The current citations can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/REArnold-954792-06232014.pdf .

R.E. Arnold, based in Gainesville, specializes in site preparation and underground utilities and has no previous OSHA inspection history. The company employs approximately 24 workers. Cocoa-based Suntree Technologies specializes in storm filtration products. It employs 24 people and has no previous OSHA inspection history.

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