OSHA fines three contractors $666,100

Three contractors working on a natural gas line in New Hampshire have been cited for numerous safety violations, some of which could have caused serious or even fatal trenching accidents. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC, proposed penalties totaling $666,100.

No workers were hurt or killed on the job from the conditions cited, but OSHA notes such violations can turn trenches into graves. Twenty-five workers were killed nationwide in 1998 in trenches that caved in because they were not dug or shored properly.

The three companies were building a 30-mile segment of pipeline in southern New Hampshire. Once completed, the 300-mile pipeline will go from Massachusetts through New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont to Canada, serving areas along the route.

Three cited for trenching violations

Three of the project’s contractors — PNGTS Operating Co. of Portsmouth, NH, the project’s construction manager; Delta Gulf Corp. in Shreveport, LA, the project’s general contractor; and Consolidated NDE of Woodbridge, NJ, a construction subcontractor — were cited for alleged willful violations of OSHA trenching standards.

"OSHA and state safety offices conducted more than 2,500 trenching inspections last year," said OSHA director Charles Jeffress in a written statement. "Trenching accidents are preventable. We will hammer away at this message until everyone gets it."

A trench collapse can be prevented by shoring or sloping the sides or by use of a device known as a trench box. OSHA inspectors said the contractors had trench boxes available but failed to use them to protect the workers.

The alleged violations were discovered during inspections conducted between August and October 1998 at pipeline installation sites in Newton, Greenland, Stratham, and Newington, NH. OSHA inspectors observed workers in inadequately protected excavations up to 18 feet deep, some with water in the excavations, and told the contractors they must provide adequate protection. The contractors continued to operate in violation of the regulations.

Delta Gulf was cited for six willful, 38 serious, and five other-than-serious violations, with total proposed penalties of $381,600. PNGTS Operating Co. was cited for six willful and six serious violations, with proposed penalties totaling $240,500. Consolidated was cited for one willful violation, with a proposed penalty of $44,000.

Several recent trenching accidents have received nationwide attention, such as cases in Tennessee and California when workers were trapped for many hours before rescue. In Missouri on Jan. 29, a worker was buried alive and died when he entered an unshored 10-foot trench to unearth a broken sewer line.

Federal and state OSHA programs conduct seminars and information sessions on trenching safety throughout the country.

The agency also sponsors a free consultation program through state agencies or universities that can help construction companies find the best ways to meet OSHA trenching requirements.

Sources

For more information:

Excavations, a 24-page guide to the OSHA trenching standard is available for $1.25 (order #029-016-00167-1) from the Government Printing Office by calling (202) 512-1800 or faxing (202) 512-2250.

This booklet and additional materials are also available on the Internet at http://www.osha.gov under "Technical Links," subcategory "Trenching and Excavation."