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May 03, 2024
Cal/OSHA cites construction company in fatal trench collapse

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) cited D’Arcy & Harty Construction, Inc., following a fatal trench collapse at a construction site in San Francisco, the state agency announced April 18.

D’Arcy & Harty Construction faces state penalties totaling $371,100 for failing to protect employees working in a trench excavation.

Cal/OSHA investigators determined that D’Arcy & Harty Construction committed willful, serious safety violations by failing to provide a protective system for employees working in the trench and failing to provide a means of escape like a ladder in case of collapse—hazards the employer had been warned about weeks before.

In an earlier inspection, a Cal/OSHA investigator had told D’Arcy & Harty Construction that a trench excavation didn’t have adequate shoring and didn’t have a ladder or other means for workers to escape in case of collapse.

Following the fatal September 28, 2023, incident, Cal/OSHA cited the employer with eight violations, including three categorized as serious, accident-related, for failure to conduct daily safety inspections of the trench for evidence of possible cave-ins before employees were allowed to work inside the trench, as well as failure to properly use equipment and materials to prevent employee exposure to excavation and trenching hazards.

Before excavations of 5 feet or deeper someone’s required to descend into, employers must obtain a permit from the local Cal/OSHA district office.

Trench collapses are among the construction industry’s most serious dangers, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Excavations can collapse in seconds, leading to serious, often fatal injuries. Workers may become buried under cubic yards of soil, each weighing as much as 3,000 pounds.

Federal OSHA has an ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) addressing trenching and excavation hazards. Under the NEP, agency compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) may stop at and inspect any excavation site they encounter during their daily duties, making a “self-referral” if they can’t communicate with the area office to get authorization for an inspection. CSHOs also may expand the scope of an inspection if trenching and excavation hazards are observed in plain view or are brought to their attention.

The trenching standard is also one of the federal standards covered by the agency’s “instance-by-instance” citation policy for “high-gravity” serious violations.

Following an uptick in trenching and excavation fatalities in 2022, the federal agency unveiled plans for 1,000 inspections of excavation sites in an effort to control trenching and excavation hazards.

Employers and supervisors also have been arrested by local authorities following trench collapse deaths.

Federal penalties can be steep. Federal OSHA recently fined a Guam contractor $1 million for trenching violations after finding workers in trenches deeper than 5 feet without required safety equipment at a Tiyan worksite.

Last year, OSHA issued a $1.8 million fine to a Minnesota contractor cited with 1 serious violation and 16 repeat violations involving trenching and excavation hazards. The federal agency found the employer endangering workers at a Minot, North Dakota, jobsite despite signing a 2021 settlement agreement for earlier citations.

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