Ga. contractor hit with $134,937 trench penalty has history of violations

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Updated Jun 20, 2020

excavator digging trenchA Georgia contractor faces a $134,937 penalty for employees working in a trench without cave-in protection.

This marks the third time in the past five years that Norcross-based Construction Management & Engineering Services, dba CMES, has been cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for trenching violations. The company also has a history of other violations, and counting the current penalty, has racked up a total of $212,605 in penalties in the past five years, according to OSHA inspection reports.

Workers for CMES were in a trench December 16 in Duluth, with a 7-foot sheer face and 16 feet of hill above them in type B soil, according to OSHA. Type B soil is cohesive but has been cracked or disturbed. Examples include angular gravel, silt loam and soils that are fissured or near sources of vibration.

The trench did not have cave-in protection, such as sloping or a trench box. OSHA issued a willful violation. It is OSHA’s most severe violation and means the employer knowingly failed to comply, or acted with indifference to employee safety.

Other trench violations issued against CMES for no cave-in protection:

  • May 29, 2015 – The company was fined $16,170 for a serious violation and for a repeat violation for no protective system after an investigation that began April 27, 2015. The fine was reduced to $9,702. (It appears CMES had a similar trench violation before this incident, but OSHA online inspection records date back only to June 16, 2015.)
  • September 12, 2016 – The company was fined $27,435, which was reduced to $13,716, for a serious violation for no protective system after an investigation began May 3, 2016. A serious violation exists when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious injury, according to OSHA.

The company has also been fined in the past year by OSHA for other violations:

  • On August 7, it was fined $30,000 for eight serious violations related to machinery use, oxygen-fuel gas welding and cutting, and wiring methods. It was also cited for 10 serious violations that resulted in $20,000 in penalties related to fall protection and falling object protection, flammable liquids, portable fire extinguishers and hazard communication.
  • In December, it was fined $4,250 for two serious violations of the “control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)” standard. This standard addresses unexpected energization or start-up of machines or equipment, or release of stored energy, that could harm employees.

(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.)