Contractor Racks Up Over $1M in Penalties Since Fatal Trench Collapse

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Updated Apr 22, 2022
excavator digging trench
Arrow Plumbing of Missouri was recently cited again by OSHA for trench violations.
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A Missouri plumbing contractor with a history of trench violations, including a fatal trench collapse in 2016, has been cited a third time for workers in an unprotected excavation, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

This time Blue Springs-based Arrow Plumbing, owned by Rick Smith, faces proposed penalties of $796,817. When including previous incidents, the company has racked up $1,321,407 in proposed OSHA penalties since 2018.

The previous penalties were for $299,590 in February 2021 for workers in an unprotected trench, and $225,000 in 2018 after a cave-in in 2016 killed a worker. OSHA says only $45,000 of that penalty has been paid. The company is contesting the $299,690 proposed penalty from February 2021.

The company also agreed in 2018 to hire a safety consultant to design and implement a trench safety program following the fatality, but a safety consultant was not hired until February  1, 2021, three years after the company promised to do so, according to OSHA. 

Then on October 14, 2021, OSHA says its inspectors found two Arrow workers in an unprotected trench installing water lines at a residential construction site. That incident has resulted in the most recent penalties, issued April 5.

“Arrow Plumbing and Rick Smith’s extensive history of OSHA inspections and their agreement with OSHA appear to have had little impact on their daily operations and their promise to implement OSHA and industry-recommended safety precautions. All of this, despite knowing firsthand how deadly a trench collapse can be,” says Steven J. Kaplan, OSHA acting regional administrator.

The most recent citations

On April 5, OSHA cited Arrow Plumbing for violations after two workers were in a 7-foot-deep trench in Grain Valley, Missouri. The trench was 13 feet long and 9 feet wide.

Proposed OSHA penalties are as follows:

(Serious violations are those when the workplace hazard could cause an accident that would most likely cause death or harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation. Willful violations are ones in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply or acted with plain indifference to employee safety.)

  • Citations for each of the two employees who were in the trench without cave-in prevention. Willful serious: $290,054.
  • An employee was working in and around the trench and had not been instructed on unsafe conditions. The company had been required to implement a safety program back in 2018. Repeat serious penalty: $145,027.
  • A dirt spoil pile was within 2 feet of the trench’s edge. Willful: $145,027.
  • Water had accumulated in the trench, compromising its walls. Willful: $145,027.
  • The ladder workers used to get in and out of the trench did not extend at least 3 feet above the top of the trench. Serious: $14,502.
  • Workers were not provided a safe way to enter and exit the trench. Serious: $14,502.
  • A worker was repeatedly allowed to walk beneath the excavator arm as it lowered a trench box into the trench. Serious: $14,502.
  • An undercut light pole at the edge of the trench had not been removed or supported. Serious: $14,502.
  • Employees not wearing hardhats in the trench while being exposed to struck-by hazards from a spoil pile too close to the trench and an undercut utility light pole on the trench edge. Serious: $13,674.

Previous violations

On August 20, workers were in a 9-foot 3-inch-deep trench at a residential construction site in Grain Valley that did not have a trench box or other cave-in protection, and a spoil pile was found within 2 feet of the trench’s edge, OSHA alleges. Both were repeat offenses from the 2016 incident, according to OSHA.

The trench also had active, unsupported and unprotected gas and electric lines across it, which exposed workers to electrical and asphyxiation hazards, and on August 20 and 21, workers were in the trench without hardhats while exposed to struck-by hazards from tools, materials and spoil piles, the citation says.

The company faces proposed penalties of $299,590. It has contested these penalties.

Fatal collapse

Donald “DJ” Meyer, 33, was installing a residential sewer line in December 2016 for Arrow while working in an 8-foot-deep trench near Kansas City, Missouri. The trench walls caved in, and he was buried alive.

Arrow Plumbing was cited by OSHA for failing to provide adequate cave-in protection, among other violations, and was ordered to pay a negotiated civil penalty of $225,000 and hire a safety consultant to design and implement a trench safety program.

The company agreed to pay the $225,000 via five payments of $45,000 over four years. To date, Arrow has only made one payment, OSHA says.

OSHA says Arrow didn’t hire a safety consultant until February 1, 2021.

“Even though Arrow Plumbing and owner Rick Smith agreed to implement a comprehensive trench safety program after a previous fatal trench collapse, employees were again found to be working in an unprotected trench,” says OSHA Area Director Karena Lorek in Kansas City. “This conduct is unacceptable, and OSHA will do everything possible to hold Mr. Smith accountable for failing to protect his workers.”