El Paso company fined $190K for unsafe trench, its fifth trench violation in 2 years

Updated Aug 11, 2018
An illustration of an unprotected trench.An illustration of an unprotected trench.

An El Paso pipe-laying company faces $190,642 in penalties for failing to protect workers from trench collapse, marking the fifth time the company has been fined in two years for similar incidents, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The OSHA inspector reported the following conditions:

  • Willful (2 items): OSHA says El Paso did not provide trench collapse protection or a ladder inside the excavation for employees to use for immediate egress.
  • Serious (2 items): The company did not teach employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions while working in an excavation. It also did not keep materials at least 2 feet away from the edge of an excavation or use retaining devices that would keep materials or equipment from falling into the excavation.

Along with the penalties, OSHA has placed El Paso Underground Construction in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program for repeat offenders.

“This company has once again put their employees at serious risk by failing to provide training and implement required trenching protections,” said OSHA Area Office Director Diego Alvarado, in El Paso. “Unprotected trenches can be fatal, and it is fortunate that no one was injured.”

The most recent incident occurred February 27, when OSHA inspectors found two of the company’s workers exposed to a cave-in hazard on a jobsite in El Paso. The workers were installing a water line in a trench that was more than 5 feet deep, according to Chauntra Rideaux, Labor Department spokesperson.

The company had been cited four times in 2017 for failing to protect workers from trench collapse at its worksites, OSHA said. No injuries were reported in any of the cases. Fines for the 2017 violations totaled $57,500, according to OSHA records.

In a June investigative report, Equipment World reported that the average initial OSHA fine for a trench death in 2016 to 2017 was $52,383.

OSHA’s most severe charge is what it calls a “willful” violation, meaning the employer demonstrated intentional disregard or indifference to employee safety. Willful violations were issued in 14 incidents representing 16 fatalities in the past two years.

Nationally, 51 workers died in 2016-2017 in trench collapses.

Editor’s Note: Editorial Director Marcia Gruver Doyle and Managing Editor Don McLoud contributed to this report.