18-Year-Old Dies in Trench; Repeat Violator Faces $258K in Penalties

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An 18-year-old died in a trench collapse in Fulshear, Texas, in September 2023. Hurtado Construction faces penalties of $257,811 after repeat violations since 2007, according to OSHA.
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A trench collapse that killed an 18-year-old worker near Houston, Texas, has led to a proposed penalty of $257,811 for the teen’s employer who has a long history of safety violations, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

OSHA cited water, sewer and drainage contractor Hurtado Construction Company, headquartered in Richmond, Texas, with a willful violation of inadequate cave-in protection and seven other violations related to the incident.

On September 15, the teen was working in a 15-foot-deep trench near Fulshear when a trench wall collapsed. The teen was inside a reinforced-concrete box that was being used as cave-in protection. However, the box was not being used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The box was not installed flush with the walls of the trench, which allowed hazardous movement of the box, OSHA reports.

The teen was pinned up against the box’s wall by tons of dirt, dying of his injuries, according to OSHA.

Along with citations related to inadequate cave-in protection, OSHA also issued violations for:

  • No one on the jobsite to provide first aid
  • No safe, quick way to exit the trench
  • No protection for water accumulating in the trench
  • Not following the manufacturer’s instructions for the reinforced concrete box
  • Failure to provide OSHA 300 Injury and Illness logs to OSHA within 4 hours.

“Hurtado Construction has routinely ignored its legal responsibility to protect employees’ safety and health,” said OSHA Area Director Larissa Ipsen in Houston. “The company’s callous disregard has cost a young man his life and left his family, friends and co-workers to grieve a terrible tragedy under circumstances that were completely preventable.”

History of Violations

This was not Hurtado’s first trench violation or employee fatality, according to previous OSHA records. An OSHA news release on the latest violations said Hurtado has a “continuing a history of workplace safety failures that includes eight OSHA citations for not providing required protective systems after another worker fatality in January 2007.”

Here are some other violations issued to Hurtado, according to OSHA investigative records:

  • On November 2, 2021, an employee was exposed to a crushed-by hazard when working in an excavation without it being protected from cave-ins by an adequate protection system, leading the company to pay a negotiated $7,831 fine.
  • On August 19, 2015, the company was cited for failing to provide adequate protection when workers were in excavations with accumulated water. The company was also cited with repeat violations for failing to provide adequate cave-in protection, failing to provide a safe way to exit the excavation, excavated materials too close to the edge and no inspection before work. The company was issued initial penalties totaling $86,240.
  • On June 21, 2012, OSHA found employees installing sewer lines in a 10-foot-deep trench that lacked cave-in protection, resulting in three repeat violations and proposed penalties of $46,200. The repeat violations stemmed from an inspection that found violations in 2010 in a residential development in Richmond, Texas.

In announcing the recent Hurtado citation, OSHA noted that workplace deaths related to excavation and trenching more than doubled between 2021 and 2022. There were 39 worker fatalities in 2022 due to trench collapse, the most such deaths in 18 years. Check out the flier below to see how you can participate in this year's Trench Safety Stand Down:

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