Average initial OSHA fine for a trench death in 2016-17: $52,383

Marcia Gruver Doyle Pix
Updated May 13, 2021
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Kevin Otto, owner of Atlantic Drain Service, center, leaves Suffolk Superior Court with his attorney following his arraignment on manslaughter charges connected with a trench collapse that killed two of his employees on Thursday, February 23, 2017. Photo credit: Boston Herald.Kevin Otto, owner of Atlantic Drain Service, center, leaves Suffolk Superior Court with his attorney following his arraignment on manslaughter charges connected with a trench collapse that killed two of his employees on Thursday, February 23, 2017. Photo credit: Boston Herald.


Editor’s Note:
This story was updated in July to reflect newly released OSHA fines.

OSHA fined Atlantic Drain Service nearly $1.5 million for the Boston trench collapse that killed Kelvin (Chuck) Mattocks and Robert Joseph Higgins on Oct. 25, 2016.

The Atlantic Drain fine, however, is an extreme outlier. Looking at available records during 2016-2017, Equipment World found that the average initial fine for a trench death during this period was $52,383.

OSHA’s most severe charge is what it calls a “willful” violation, meaning the employer demonstrated intentional disregard or indifference to employee safety. Willful violations were issued in 14 incidents representing 16 fatalities in the past two years.

Initial OSHA fines in incidents with willful violations totaled $3.99 million. That number, however, is cut to $2.5 million when the Atlantic Drain outlier is removed. For the 13 remaining incidents with willful violations, the average initial fine was $129,070.

In addition to Atlantic Drain, three other companies received high initial fines for trench safety infractions during this time period. Arrow Plumbing, Blue Springs, Missouri, received a $294,059 initial fine for the death of David (D.J.) Meyer, age 33. OSHA fined JK Excavating & Utilities, Mason, Ohio, $202,201 for the death of Zachary David Hess, age 25.

And high fines aren’t just the result of a fatality: Kamphuis Pipeline, Grand Rapids, Michigan, received a $187,653 fine for exposing its employees to trench cave-ins. OHSA fined Jax Utilities Management, Jacksonville, Florida,  an initial $271,606 after an investigation of an employee injury in a trench. That fine since has been reduced to $135,836.

OSHA trench fatality fines, 2016-2017

Top initial fine $1,475,813 Atlantic Drain Service, Bellingham, Massachusetts
Average initial fine minus Atlantic Drain incident (48 incidents) $52,383
Average pending/closed fine minus Atlantic Drain incident (37 reporting incidents) $37,110
Initial fines
Below $5,000* 8 16%
$5,000 – $20,000 11 22%
$20,000 – $40,000 9 18%
$40,000 – $100,000 11 22%
More than $100,000 10 20%

*Includes fatalities where no fine was issued.
Note: Based on initial fines from 48 incidents (one incident reported no initial fines as of July 2, 2018); double fatalities had combined fines; includes two instances in which two companies were fined for one incident.