Two workers who escaped a trench collapse were ordered back into the trench, which later caved in, killing one and injuring the other, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The contractor faces proposed penalties of $243,406.
The incident occurred October 23 in Austin, Texas, when workers for D Guerra Construction LLC were installing a residential sewer line. The 13-foot-deep trench did not have cave-in protection, OSHA says.
The deceased worker, who was not identified, died of suffocation and crushing injuries, according to OSHA online records.
“Despite a partial trench collapse earlier in the day, D Guerra Construction LLC recklessly sent employees back into the excavation without protective measures to prevent another cave-in,” said OSHA Area Director Casey Perkins in Austin. “The loss of this worker's life was preventable, and the employer must be held responsible for ignoring excavation safety rules.”
OSHA issued citations April 21 for the following violations:
- No protective system in place in the trench. Willful violation; $130,524 proposed penalty.
- A competent person as designated by OSHA guidelines had not performed an inspection of the trench before workers entered it. Willful; $93,234 proposed penalty.
- Employees did not receive training on hazards associated with working in and around the trench. Serious violation; $9,324 proposed penalty.
- Water was in the bottom of the trench. Serious violation; $9,324 proposed penalty.
- The contractor did not report to OSHA within 24 hours of the injury that a worker was hospitalized. Other-than-serious violation; $1,000 proposed penalty.
(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.)
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Trench stats & safety guides
OSHA provided the following statistics and resources for contractors concerning trenching safety:
- From 2011-2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 166 workers died in trench collapses. In 2019, OSHA reports at least 24 workers died while working on trenching and excavation projects, all of them preventable had the required safety measures been taken.
- 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 before allowing a worker to enter.
- The 2022 “Trench Safety Stand-Down” week, June 20-24, is a collaboration with the National Utility Contractors Association and OSHA to educate employers and workers and reduce the number of worker injuries and fatalities related to trench cave-ins.
- OSHA's trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.