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Connecticut company ignores trench cave-in hazards

January 26, 2012
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OSHA poster
OSHA trench danger poster

Even after being informed of cave-in hazards, a Connecticut company continued to send workers into a ten-foot-deep trench in Hartford that lacked protection to prevent the walls from collapsing -- an action which earned Penney Construction Co. LLC seven OSHA citations and $169,000 in proposed fines.

"This employer repeatedly sent its workers into harm's way even after being told that the unguarded trench posed a clear, immediate and potentially deadly threat," said Paul Mangiafico, OSHA's area director in Hartford. "These workers could have been crushed or buried alive in seconds."

The workers were exposed cave-in hazards while repairing a sewer line in the trench. In addition to the lack of wall collapse protection (OSHA standards require that trenches or excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse through shoring, sloping of the soil or use of a protective trench box), the trench was made even more dangerous by the presence of an unsupported sidewalk and catch basin overhanging the trench.

In addition to two willful violations (with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health), Penney Construction was assessed five serious violations for rocks and soil falling into the trench, not testing the sewer line for hazardous atmospheres, a lack of personal protective equipment and not adequately training the workers to recognize the hazards associated with their work.

OSHA has placed Penney Construction in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law. Initiated in June 2010, the program focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations.

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