OSHA issued citations to Alabama-based Stephens Plumbing for one willful and four serious safety violations. The agency initiated the inspection as part of its National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation after an inspector saw workers in a trench without protection. 

The willful citation was issued to the employer for allowing employees to work in an excavation up to 10-feet deep without cave-in protection. The agency requires 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 an acceptable angle or by using a protective trench box.

The serious citations relate to the employer:

  • Not providing workers with information and training to recognize and avoid cave-in hazards.
  • Not providing a safe means to enter and exit the excavation.
  • Failing to ensure soil removed from the trench was not placed directly on the edge of the opening.
  • Allowing employees to work in an excavation with water accumulated in the bottom.

Proposed penalties: $43,800

“Stephens Plumbing knew the excavation was unsafe, but they put workers in the trench anyway, because management said ‘the job needed to get done’,” said Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile. “Luckily, a compliance officer was there to stop the work before a collapse occurred. It only takes seconds for trench to collapse and bury an employee under thousands of pounds of earth, often resulting in serious injury or death.”