OSHA fines Tarco $126,000 for violations

Trenching and excavation targeted

Despite the increased attention in recent years to the hazards of trenching and excavation, employers continue to expose workers to danger by not complying with federal safety standards. Federal safety inspectors are trying to keep up by handing out significant fines, with the latest levied against companies in Colorado and New Hampshire.

Studies estimate that 100 employees are killed in excavation-related incidents each year in the United States. The latest fines against employers suggest that the government is willing to take strong action against violations even if there is no accident on-site and no injury to workers.

Inspectors cited Tarco in Arvada, CO, for two willful violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act related to trenching and excavation hazards. The proposed penalties total $126,000.

The violations and the penalties were issued by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after an inspection of an excavation site in Edgewater, CO, on June 8, 1998. The inspection was initiated by a referral from the Edgewater Police and Fire Departments when a Tarco employee was partially buried by a cave-in. According to a report by John Healy, OSHA area director in Englewood, the violations resulted because the employer failed to provide adequate sloping, shoring, shields, or equivalent systems to protect employees from cave-in hazards; further, the employer allowed accumulations of water in the excavation.

Healy says the competent person on-site knew of the cave-in hazard and failed to remove the employees from those potentially life-threatening conditions.

In another case, OSHA cited Piscopo Contracting of Winnisquam, NH, for an alleged willful violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act at a Bristol, NH, excavation work site and has proposed penalties totaling $27,500.

According to David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire, the alleged violation was discovered during an inspection conducted Nov. 25, 1998, at a water main installation site in Bristol. The inspection was conducted under OSHA’s national emphasis program, which targets trenching and excavation work sites for unannounced spot inspections.

Piscopo Contracting had seven employees working on site at the time of this inspection. The inspection found two employees working in a 7-foot-deep excavation that lacked protection against a possible collapse of its side walls, May reports.

He notes that the size of the fine proposed in this case reflects OSHA’s classification of the citation as willful, the most severe category of OSHA citation. OSHA issues willful citations only when information indicates that the employer knew what safeguards were required to protect workers yet apparently elected not to supply them.

OSHA cited the same employer on Sept. 25, two months to the day before the inspection, resulting in the fine for a violation of the same OSHA safety standard at an excavation work site in Rochester, NH. No collapse occurred in either instance.

Specifically, the company is being cited for one alleged willful violation, with a proposed penalty of $27,500, for allowing employees to work in an excavation that was not protected against collapse by shoring, sloping of the soil, or other effective means.

Both companies can contest the fines assessed by OSHA.