Contractor fined $329,000 for safety violations

Federal safety inspectors are taking a hard line on trenching violations. After safety inspections at pipeline installation sites in seven communities in Coos County, NH, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Washington, DC, has cited a Texas-based pipe-laying contractor — which was working on the northern New Hampshire portion of a multistate natural gas pipeline — for alleged willful and serious violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA has proposed $329,000 in fines against H.C. Price Co. of Dallas.

The fines are for alleged hazards posed to the contractor’s workers by inadequately guarded trenches, improper operation and maintenance of pipe-laying cranes, and allowing its employees to ride unauthorized machinery.

According to David May, OSHA area director for New Hampshire, the alleged violations were discovered during OSHA inspections conducted between September and December 1998, at excavation sites in Milan, Stark, Columbia, Stewartstown, Stratford, Colebrook, and Groveton, NH.

Some of the inspections were spot checks conducted under OSHA’s trenching safety initiative, and others were the result of complaints or calls from the general public alleging the company’s unsafe working conditions. In addition, one inspection was in response to an Oct. 12, 1998, fatality at a work site in Stark.

Inadequate cave-in protection

The common hazard found at most of these work sites was the lack of adequate cave-in protection for employees working in trenches five feet or more in depth, May reports.

OSHA standards require that effective collapse protection be in place and in use before employees enter a trench. The absence of such protection leaves workers vulnerable to being struck by and buried beneath tons of soil before they have a chance to react or escape.

May explains that the considerable size of the fines proposed against H.C. Price Co. reflects the classification of its trenching citations as willful, the most severe category of OSHA violation.

OSHA issues such citations only when the agency concludes, based on its inspection, that the employer knew what safeguards were required to protect workers yet apparently elected not to provide them.

Twenty-five U.S. workers died in trenching-related cave-ins last year, and OSHA has vowed to take strong action against employers who continue to disregard trenching safety measures. May says the severity of the fine reflects the seriousness of Price’s willful disregard of the safety of its employees.

Fatal accident involving crane

The Oct. 12, 1998, accident occurred when a Price employee was struck and killed by the boom of a pipe-laying crane that was pulling the equipment sled on which he was riding. OSHA cited H.C. Price Co. for two alleged serious violations: making unauthorized modifications to the pipe layer and allowing employees to ride on the sled.

This is a breakdown of the total $329,000 in penalties proposed against H.C. Price Co.:

• Five alleged willful violations, with $290,000 in proposed fines, for five instances of failing to adequately guard trenches against possible collapse.

• Thirteen alleged serious violations, with $39,000 in proposed penalties, for failure to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. The particulars were:

    — Employees were, on different occasions, permitted to ride on metal equipment sleds, on the superstructure of an excavator, and in an excavator bucket.
    — An employee riding a four-wheel vehicle did not wear required head protection.
    — There was water accumulation hazard in a trench, an inadequately guarded trench, and a trench without a ladder or other means of exit every 25 feet as required.
    — Excavated spoils were placed too close to the edge of two excavations.
    — Unauthorized modifications were made to a pipe-laying crane.
    — A custom-made lifting device had not been load-tested or had its load-lifting capacity marked.
    — Damaged crane slings were in use.
    — A sling was not marked with its load rating.
    — A forklift truck was not inspected for defects.

H.C. Price Co. can contest the fines.

Calls to the company were not returned.