OSHA issues $200K in fines for trench violations on Hawaii water project

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Updated Jul 23, 2018

Construction worker in a trench while heavy equipment is digging

A water utility in Honolulu has been fined nearly $200,000 for failing to protect workers from possible trench collapse, marking the third time in four years the utility has been fined for such incidents, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

OSHA’s Hawaii division issued nine citations against the City and County of Honolulu Board of Water Supply after an inspection January 18 of a worksite on Ala Moana Boulevard in Honolulu. Workers were in a 7-foot-deep trench that was 25 feet long and 8.5 feet wide. They were installing a 12-inch water main. Water had begun to accumulate in the trench because of high tide, as the excavation was near the ocean, according to the OSHA citations.

The citations included failing to control the accumulation of water in the trench where workers were present, and failing to install a Speed Shore Vertical Shoring System according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. OSHA inspectors said the trench had only one hydraulic cylinder, or shore, for each vertical plane installed instead of a minimum of two shores per vertical plane as stated in the manufacturer’s tabulated data. The citation said this failure exposed workers “to an excavation hazard with the potential to sustain serious bodily injuries.”

According to the citation, while water was entering the trench, the foreman removed the shores from the east and west side of the trench. The foreman and two other workers then entered the trench and worked in an unshored area that had the potential for cave-in, the citation said.

OSHA also determined that the trench lacked a safe way to enter and exit. The trench had only one extension ladder, which was on the east side of the trench, but no ladder to enter or exit on the west side.

No injuries or incidents were reported at the jobsite by inspectors; however, they noted that the Board of Water Supply had been cited in 2014 and in 2017 for similar trench shoring safety issues.

A call to the water board for comment was not immediately returned.

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In 2014, the board was fined $13,860 for five serious citations, and in September 2017, it was fined $57,970 for one serious citation and two repeat-serious citations, according to OSHA records. The 2017 citation also included failure to provide safe entrance and exit of the trench, making the 2018 ladder citation a repeat offense.

OSHA defines a serious violation as “a workplace hazard that could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.”

Other violations listed in the most recent OSHA citation include failing to inspect the synthetic web slings used to lift and install the water pipe. The slings had tears and snags, which exposed workers to “a hoisting hazard with the potential to sustain serious bodily injuries,” the citation  said. The OSHA citation indicated that this situation had been corrected.

The workers were also using a bucket on a compact excavator that was not equipped with a proper lifting attachment, which exposed workers to a “struck by hazard with the potential to sustain serious bodily injuries,” the citation said.

In all, the nine citations total $198,828. The water board has the right to contest the citations within 20 days. If it does not contest a citation, it must submit an Abatement Certification to the Hawaii division of OSHA to show it remedied the situation.