A company owner in Roslindale, Massachusetts was sentenced this week to two years in the House of Corrections after being found guilty of two counts of manslaughter for the deaths of two employees. Kevin Otto, owner of Atlantic Drain Services, will have three years’ probation following his sentence, and he can never again employ anyone in a job that involves excavation.

Robert Higgins and Kelvin Mattocks drowned in October 2018 in an unprotected, 14’ deep trench following a water main break. It took Boston firefighters hours to recover the men’s bodies, one of whom was found fully encased in a standing position.

$1 million+ in OSHA penalties

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Otto to seven to 10 years in prison, based on his company’s history of safety violations. Following an investigation into the fatality, OSHA levied an additional $1.48 million in penalties on the company for 18 willful, repeat, serious and other-than-serious violations of workplace safety standards.

Otto was also charged with one count of misleading an investigator and six counts of concealing a record. The court found that Otto forged his employees' signatures on records saying they had completed trench safety courses that were mandated when OSHA levied $55,000 in fines against Atlantic Drain in 2007 and again in 2012 for putting workers in deep trenches without proper safety precautions.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) said it hoped the sentence will serve as a warning to employers that place profits over the safety of their employees that society will punish them for needlessly putting lives at risk.

Falsified records

“When a worker is killed on the job, it is incredibly rare that an employer is held responsible, despite knowingly putting their workers' lives at risk,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan. “This case was even more egregious in that Kevin Otto and Atlantic Drain had already been issued multiple OSHA violations, had been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program and even attempted to deceive investigators with falsified safety and health records after the tragic event."

“[We are] glad there is coverage so the world will know that [Kelvin] did not die in vain and some good has come out of this,” said Melinda Mattocks-Ushry, sister of Kelvin Mattocks.

After the disaster, MassCOSH worked with the Boston City Council and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh to pass an ordinance requiring companies to report their own OSHA violations when applying for a city permit. The goal: to prevent contracts and public funds from going to entities with a history of putting workers at risk. City officials can now deny permits if contractors have a record of failing to protect workers and can revoke or suspend necessary permits on the same basis.

Additionally, MassCOSH is actively involved in seeking the passage of S2372/H4125: An Act Relative to Workplace Safety (https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H4125). The legislation will require companies seeking to do business with the Commonwealth, or seeking a trenching permit to report their record of safety violations. If passed, the Commonwealth will be able to avoid contracting with companies that have a poor record of safety, thereby preventing future worker injuries and deaths across the state.

“Each year, trench work is found to be one of the most deadly situations for workers and often it is due to not following OSHA regulations,” said Representative Michelle M. DuBois. “I filed [An Act Relative to Workplace Safety] a common sense, worker safety, transparent government bill to ensure municipalities have all the facts about a contractors’ OSHA violations prior to issuing permits. Chuck was a Brockton resident and his family still resides in my district. If this law was on the books, there is a good chance he would still be here today.”