A month after a 33-year-old worker died while working in an unprotected trench, OSHA inspectors found another employee of the same Missouri plumbing contractor working in a similarly unprotected trench at another job site.
OSHA determined that, in both cases, Arrow Plumbing LLC of Blue Springs failed to provide basic safeguards to prevent trench collapse and did not train its employees to recognize and avoid cave-in and other hazards. Trench collapses are among the most dangerous hazards in the construction industry. In 2016, OSHA received reports of 23 deaths and 12 injuries nationwide in trench and excavation operations. In the first five months of 2017, 15 deaths and 19 injuries have been reported nationwide.
A call to review safety procedures
“We call on all employers involved in excavation work to review their safety procedures, and to ensure that all workers are properly protected and trained on the job,” said Kimberly Stille, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Regional Administrator in Kansas City, Missouri. “We support the efforts by the National Utility Contractors Association to raise awareness of trenching hazards in the U.S.”
OSHA opened its first investigation of Arrow Plumbing after a 33-year-old employee died on Dec. 15, 2016, when a 12-foot trench collapsed at a home construction site in Belton. A second investigation began on Jan. 20, 2017, at a Kansas City work site where inspectors found the contractor’s employees working in an unprotected trench at another residential work site. No employees were injured there.
Trenching hazards at two work sites
OSHA found similar violations at both work sites, and they included the company’s failure to install a support system to protect employees in an approximate 12-foot-deep trench from caving-in; training workers on how to identify hazards in trenching and excavation work, and providing a ladder at all times so employees could leave a trench.
Overall, OSHA cited Arrow Plumbing for six willful and eight serious violations of workplace safety standards and proposed $714,142 in penalties.
There's still time to participate in Trench Safety Stand-Down Week, from June 19 to 24, an event sponsored by NUCA, with the support of OSHA to educate and encourage employers and workers on precautions. NUCA is requesting all contractors, municipalities, military and others involved with trenching operations to hold a stand-down. Resources and more information are available at www.nuca.com/tssd. A poster for the event is also available.
OSHA provides the construction industry and others with guidance on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of trench. An e-tool covering safety procedures is available here.
OSHA also provides “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs” advice to the business community. In addition, the agency offers compliance assistance, tips, consultation for small- and medium-sized businesses, educational materials, training and other information to employers and workers on common workplace safety hazards and how to prevent illness and injury.
Each state has its own On-site Consultation Program. This confidential safety and health consultation program is targeted toward smaller businesses primarily; employers can find out about potential hazards at their workplace, improve programs already in place and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections. Information is available at www.osha.gov/consultation.