Contractor Faces $450K in Penalties After Fatal Trench Collapse

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site of fatal trench collapse in breckenridge colorado
Members of the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District respond to a fatal trench collapse November 16 in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District

A contractor who assigned workers to enter unprotected trenches on more than one occasion faces penalties of $449,583 following a fatal cave-in in Colorado, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Marlon Diaz, age 20, was working for A4S Construction of Vail installing residential sewer lines when he was buried in a trench collapse November 16 and died. Two other workers were in the trench at a new housing development overlooking the Breckenridge Ski Resort and escaped unharmed.

Then on December 20, OSHA inspectors observed a similar violation of workers on the same construction site in a section of a trench that did not have cave-in protection. And they reported that trenches had collapsed before on the project.

“Between August and December 2021, the employer routinely assigned workers to work inside trenches that were not protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system,” according to OSHA’s citation issued May 13.

“A4S Construction’s failure to comply with excavation requirements cost a worker his life,” said OSHA Area Director Amanda Kupper in Denver. “Our investigation found that this employer willfully sent workers into unprotected trenches at a site with a history of cave-ins, and continued to expose workers to the same conditions even after the fatality.”

Fire department personnel who responded to the fatal collapse reported seeing a trench box on the site, but it was not in the trench.

Colorado was the site of a fatal cave-in in 2018 that killed 50-year-old Rosario “Chayo” Martínez, who was installing a water line in an 8-foot-deep trench. His employer, Bryan D. Johnson, president of residential and commercial general contractor ContractOne of Avon, was sentenced to 10 months in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of third-degree assault.

OSHA issued the following violations against A4S on May 13:

(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.)

  • Failed to use cave-in protection. Willful violation, $145,027 proposed penalty.
  • Failed to train workers on trench hazards. Willful violation, $145,027.
  • Failed to provide a safe way for workers to exit the trench. A ladder should be available at least 25 feet from workers, but in this trench, it was 90 feet from workers. Serious violation, $14,502.
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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.

OSHA trench resources

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 with all of them preventable had required safety measures been taken.

OSHA has a National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavationsTrenching 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.

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 to reduce the number of worker injuries and fatalities related to trench cave-ins.