Florida contractor faces $300K penalty: Workers in unsafe trenches, exposed to raw sewage

Me Photo Headshot
Updated Apr 29, 2020

excavator digging trench at jobsite

A Florida contractor faces $303,611 in proposed penalties for trench and other violations at two separate worksites.

Cathcart Construction Company-Florida LLC of Oveido, Florida, was cited for workers being exposed to possible trench collapse on both jobs, and workers were exposed to raw sewage without protection on one of those sites, according to citations issued April 14 by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration.


Trench hazards and raw sewage

The first set of violations, with proposed penalties totaling $175,228, were observed October 22 and 23 at a jobsite in Orlando, according to OSHA. They are as follows:

  • Untrained workers were in a 7-foot-deep trench with vertical sides without cave-in protection. Employees in this trench were also exposed to raw sewage when they were cutting into a sewer line to install a PVC fitting at the bottom of the trench. Raw sewage accumulated in the trench. The excavation atmosphere had not been tested before employees entered. The workers were also not wearing protection, such as rubber gloves, protective face shields or rubber boots.
  • Untrained workers were in a 6-foot-deep trench with an improperly built trench box. The trench box had been assembled without using the manufacturer’s tabulated data. The side of the trench box was not braced or shored to prevent hazardous movement. The workers did not have a ladder or other safe way to exit the trench.
  • Untrained workers were compacting soil in a 6-foot-deep trench with no cave-in protection.
  • Employees were exposed to possibly getting struck by a vehicle while working October 22 and 23 in and around a trench where there were no road-closure or detour signs.
  • Employees were working in a trench under or near a suspended trench box without wearing hard hats.
  • Employees were not trained to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions within the trenches, and untrained employees were working as flaggers at the trench site.


Unprotected excavation

The second set of violations, with proposed penalties totaling $128,383, occurred January 10 at a jobsite in Winter Garden. They are as follows:

  • Workers were installing an air-pressure release valve in an unprotected 6-foot, 1-inch trench beside a road. The soil had been previously disturbed, and there was no shoring, shielding or sloping to protect employees.
  • No safe means had been provided for workers to get in and out of the excavation. Workers were climbing the excavation’s walls to get in and out.

“A trench collapse can happen in seconds and is preventable,” says Loren Sweatt, OSHA principal deputy assistant secretary. “Employers are legally obligated to ensure adequate protections are in place to prevent serious or fatal injuries.”

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