OSHA has issued a total of $154,700 in proposed fines against three Massachusetts contractors for exposing workers to cave-in hazards at a Salem, N.H., worksite. Cited were Joseph P. Cardillo & Son Inc. of Wakefield, Majestic Mechanical Contractors Inc. of Tewksbury and Domenick Zanni Sons Inc. of Reading.

The cited companies had been contracted to install a grease trap and piping for a supermarket under construction on Route 28 in Salem, N.H. The OSHA inspection began in June when an agency official observed employees working in an unprotected 8-foot deep excavation that also lacked a ladder or other safe means of egress.

"The size of these proposed fines reflects the gravity of these hazards and the fact that two of the employers knew cave-in protection and a ladder were required, yet refused to provide these vital safeguards," said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's New Hampshire area director. "The danger was real and present because the walls of an unguarded trench can collapse in seconds, striking and engulfing workers before they have a chance to react or escape."

For the cave-in and ladder hazards, Cardillo was issued two willful citations with $105,000 in fines, Majestic was issued two willful citations with $42,000 in fines and Zanni was issued two serious citations with $5,600 in fines. Cardillo and Majestic were also issued three other-than-serious citations each and fined $1,200 and $900, respectively, for inadequate recordkeeping. Cardillo faces a total of $106,200 in fines; Majestic, a total of $42,900; and Zanni, a total of $5,600.

A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or plain indifference to worker safety and health. A serious citation is issued when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. An other-than-serious violation is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health, but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.

OSHA standards require that excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse. Detailed information of excavation safety hazards and safeguards is available online atwww.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/index.html.