Department of Labor investigators finds workers exposed on five occasions
WATERLOO, IL ‒ A Breese contractor who ignored a city engineer’s repeated verbal and written instructions to use trench cave-in protection faces penalties after federal workplace safety inspectors found the employer failed to protect workers installing storm sewer lines from potentially deadly trench cave-ins on a least five occasions.
Acting on a City of Waterloo referral, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found five employees of Groundworks Contracting Inc. in trenches as deep as 18 feet on five occasions during its investigation from Nov. 30, 2022 to Jan. 20, 2023 at the Silvercreek Crossing residential housing development.
Inspectors determined the employer put workers at risk by failing to provide required cave-in protection and head protection and by not training employees to recognize cave-in hazards. In addition, OSHA found Groundworks had no competent person on site to inspect trenches before workers entered and, on one occasion, failed to protect a laborer as they were hoisted in an excavator’s bucket to work over a 15-foot-deep trench.
Trench collapses are among the construction industry’s most deadly hazards. In 2022, 39 workers suffered fatal injuries in trenching and excavation work.
“With help from a concerned City of Waterloo engineer, our inspectors were able to hold Groundworks Contracting Inc. accountable for its failure to protect employees from the threat of trench collapse, one of the construction industry’s most lethal hazards,” explained OSHA Area Director Aaron Priddy in Fairview Heights, Ill. “Despite warnings from local authorities, this contractor’s callous lack of concern for their employees’ safety and well-being is hard to imagine.”
Following its investigation, OSHA cited Groundworks Contracting for one willful violation, four serious violations, and one other-than-serious violation of federal trenching and excavation standards, and proposed penalties of $77,147.
OSHA has a national emphasis program 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 a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.
In June, the National Utility Contractors Association annually recognizes Trench Safety Month. OSHA and the NUCA will collaborate for Trench Safety Stand Down Week at hundreds of jobsites nationwide, reaching thousands of workers, from June 19 to 23, 2023.