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July 21, 2021
Contractor gets jail time in trench fatality

A Colorado contractor has been sentenced to 10 months in jail for a fatal 2018 trench collapse at a Granby, Colorado, work site. The case comes under a partnership between the Department of Labor (DOL) Solicitor’s Office and state and local prosecutors to prosecute employers under state criminal statutes, along with an increased number of criminal referrals to the U.S. Department of Justice for federal prosecution.

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Criminal prosecutions of employers in the communities where they work and the victim lived are an effective deterrent and send a strong signal to regulated industries, according to a statement from DOL and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Bryan Johnson, owner of ContractOne Inc., was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of third-degree assault related to the death of Rosario Martinez, who suffered fatal injuries in a preventable trench collapse at the Granby work site on June 14, 2018. Johnson pleaded guilty to the charges on June 16 of this year.

In addition to jail time, a Colorado state court also ordered Johnson to:

  • Serve three years’ probation;
  • Pay Martinez’s family restitution not to exceed $25,000;
  • Make charitable contributions to local charities;
  • Participate in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workers Memorial Day ceremony;
  • Complete safety training and not commit any willful or serious future OSHA violations; and
  • Allow OSHA to inspect his work sites without an administrative warrant.

OSHA inspectors determined that Johnson had hired Martinez to install drywall and do carpentry work but failed to train him or his other workers to identify or avoid hazards related to trenching and excavation. Martinez was installing a water service line at the time of the collapse.

 The trench had collapsed the day before Martinez’s death, but Johnson ignored signs to change his procedures. Martinez’s son was on-site and helped first responders to dig his father out of the trench, but Martinez later succumbed to his injuries at a nearby hospital, according to DOL.

OSHA inspectors found that ContractOne Inc. willfully failed to use a required trench protective system. Agency inspectors determined that the employer also failed to:

  • Conduct regular site inspections to correct a potentially hazardous condition;
  • Place excavated soil piles a safe distance from trench edges;
  • Provide ladders for trench egress; and
  • Use appropriate utility location procedures during trenching operations.

“The department believes the facts of this case warrant the sentence and we support the District Attorney’s efforts to hold Johnson accountable for failing to protect workers under his care and supervision. Incarceration sends a strong message,” Denver Regional Solicitor John Rainwater said in the DOL statement. “We believe that prosecuting criminal cases has the ability to change the industry.”

“The evidence collected during OSHA’s investigation, and later relied upon by the District Attorney’s Office to pursue criminal charges, reflects particularly egregious behavior,” OSHA’s Denver Acting Regional Administrator Nancy Hauter said in the agency statement.

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