Trench violations lead to $212,158 in proposed fines for Mo. contractor

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Updated Jul 26, 2019
An example of an unsafe trench.An example of an unsafe trench.

A Missouri contractor faces $212,158 in proposed penalties for exposing employees to potential trench collapse, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

R.V. Wagner Inc. of Affton, Missouri, was installing concrete stormwater pipes January 11 in St. Louis without a trench box or other trench protection and no safe exit from the trench, OSHA said.

The agency cited Wagner with two willful violations, the most serious, for those infractions and cited it with these serious violations: excavated material within 2 feet of an open trench, no daily worksite inspections, and workers exposed to crushing hazards and not wearing hard hats. No workers were injured.

The violations were found January 11 when workers were replacing a concrete storm pipe in an excavation that was 7.5 feet deep and 6 feet wide, according to the citation. There was no protection in place to prevent cave-in. Employees were using a steep earthen ramp with a 50- to 60-degree incline to enter and exit the trench, but the path was blocked by an excavator bucket. That left workers more than 25 feet from a safe way to get in and out of the trench.

The citation also said that an employee in the trench was working under an excavator that was lifting 1,000 pounds of 15-inch reinforced concrete pipe, which caused a potential crushing hazard. The trench also had a spoil pile, tension cracks and loose debris between zero and 12 inches from the top edge of the excavation, and workers beneath were not wearing hard hats.

The company has 15 business days from the receipt of the citation, issued on July 8, to contest the OSHA violations or request an informal conference.

“Employers must ensure that employees enter trenches only after adequate protections are in place to address cave-in hazards,” said OSHA St. Louis Area Director Bill McDonald. “A trench collapse can happen in just seconds, potentially burying employees under thousands of pounds of soil and causing severe injury.”

For more on the business and human costs of trench-collapse fatalities in the United States, see Equipment World’s special report “Death by Trench”.