One worker noticed a large crack in the soft dirt of an unprotected wall of a utility trench. He and the other employee in the trench at that time were told to use caution…but continue working. The subsequent collapse of that unprotected wall killed a man and earned his employer nearly a quarter of a million dollars in fines from Cal/OSHA.

A 14' high wall

Investigators for the state agency said Livermore-based contractor Platinum Pipeline, Inc. committed willful-serious safety violations by instructing employees to continue grading the bottom of the trench without providing any protection, even after identifying the soil as unstable. As a result, a 14-foot-high excavation wall collapsed and claimed the life of one of the workers on July 27, 2018. The company faces penalties of $242,600.

“Excavations must be properly shored, sloped or shielded before workers enter,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “The employer overseeing this operation understood the hazards, but did not take the necessary steps to protect its workers.”

How occupational fatality happened

Platinum Pipeline, Inc. workers were digging trenches to install two storm drain pipes at a residential construction site in Daly City. Three of the five workers were trained and competent in excavation, and the ends of the trench had been sloped to prevent cave-ins. However, one side was not sloped because of concerns that a nearby utility pole might fall. When the unprotected wall collapsed, one worker escaped, but the second worker was fatally crushed.

Cal/OSHA cited Platinum Pipeline, Inc. for 10 violations, including two classified as willful-serious accident-related, five serious and three general. The willful-serious accident-related violations were cited for failing to ensure that no employees were in the trench until an adequate protective system was put in place to ensure their safety, and for failing to remove workers from an excavation after a competent person observed cave-in hazards. The serious category violations included the employer’s failure to secure the utility pole and various excavation safety hazards such as placing excavated material too close to the edge of the excavation.

A permit from the local Cal/OSHA district office must be obtained before the construction of excavations five feet or deeper into which any person is
required to descend.