OSHA has cited a Sioux Falls, South Dakota excavating contractor for five serious safety violations after the agency's investigators found a 40-year-old equipment operator suffered severe injuries while working in a 16-foot-deep trench on Oct. 28, 2016. A large amount of dirt fell into a trench box in which the man was working and collapsed upon him. The worker was installing sewer lines at a site in Brandon, South Dakota.

OSHA found Kempf Construction failed to:

  • Protect employees working in a trench.
  • Failed to slope sides of trench in accordance with OSHA standards.
  • Properly place a ladder used to access the trench box.
  • Remove employees from the trench when hazardous conditions were apparent.
  • Provide sanitary facilities on the job site.

"Kempf Construction's failure to adhere to OSHA standards to protect workers in trenches has resulted in debilitating injuries to this man. They will likely affect him and his ability to make a living for the rest of his life," said Sheila Stanley, OSHA's area director in Sioux Falls.

An "alarming trend"

Stanley noted that trench deaths have more than doubled since 2015 and in 2016, more than two dozen workers were injured and at least 22 killed in trenches nationwide.

"This is an alarming trend that must be halted," she said. "Excavating companies need to re-examine their safety procedures to ensure they are taking all available precautions - including installing trench boxes, shoring and other means to prevent unexpected shifts in the soil that can cause walls to collapse."

OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems in trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least two feet from the edge of trench.

Proposed penalties against Kempf Construction: $40,538.