Worker injured in Fla. trench collapse; $54K penalty issued

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Updated Jul 1, 2020

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Duke Energy Florida faces a proposed penalty of $53,976 after a worker was injured in a trench collapse.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued two citations to Florida Progress LLC, doing business as Duke Energy Florida, after it was notified that an employee had been hospitalized after the incident on January 22 in Zephyrhills, Florida. The company is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.

The worker was in a trench that was 5 feet 8 inches deep and 14 feet long. Trenches 5 feet deep or more require a protective system. The trench was 4 feet wide with near vertical walls, OSHA said, and a spoil pile was located 1 foot from the edge of the wall that collapsed.

The Duke Energy Customer Delivery employee injured his leg when the wall collapsed, according to a statement from Duke Energy. “At Duke Energy, the safety of our employees and customers is our first priority. We have investigated this incident and taken corrective actions to help prevent this in the future.”

The OSHA citations on June 18 listed the following violations:

  • Employees were not protected from cave-in by an adequate protective system. Serious violation: $13,494. A serious violation is defined by OSHA as a workplace hazard that could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation.
  • Employees were not provided training and education on trench safety and hazard recognition. Serious violation: $13,494.
  • Excavated material was closer than 2 feet from the trench edge. Serious violation: $13,494.
  • Daily inspections were not conducted by a competent person to ensure that the trench was protected by shoring, sloping or other protective measures; that a ladder was provided for safe exit and entrance; and that spoil piles were at least 2 feet from the edge of the trench. Serious violation: $13,494.
  • No ladder provided for employees to safely enter and exit the trench, who were instead climbing the sides of the trench to get out. Other-than-serious violation: $0.

“Employers must take necessary steps to protect employees working in excavations. Failing to correct hazards places workers at risk of serious and fatal injuries,” says Condell Eastmond, acting director for OSHA’s Tampa Area Office. “OSHA encourages employers to contact the agency for compliance assistance with trenching and excavation requirements.”

Duke Energy Florida has 15 business days from the date of the citation to contest the citation. “The company takes OSHA’s concerns very seriously and plans to discuss the citations with OSHA as the company evaluates its legal options,” the Duke Energy statement says. “The alleged citations are related to excavation and trenching conditions and training. We look forward to resolving this together to ensure an even safer environment for everyone.”

(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.)