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October 18, 2016
Disregard for OSHA proves a poor choice for plumbing contractor

The day after being cited for exposing workers to unsafe trenches, OSHA investigators saw a Chicago plumbing contractor expose the same crew to trenching hazards on a different sewer and water project. Find out how OSHA responded to this brash and risky behavior.

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For what OSHA calls “its wanton disregard for the safety of its workers,” the contractor has been placed in OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). The business is facing proposed penalties in excess of $275,000 for one willful violation, three repeat violations, and one serious violation. SVEP focuses on recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat, or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of an employer’s facilities or job sites if it has reason to believe there are similar violations.

On March 10, 2016 OSHA inspectors observed a crew installing water lines in a six-foot-trench without cave in protection and followed up with citations and penalties. On March 28 OSHA found a crew working in a five-and-a-half-foot deep trench without cave-in protection and without a means to enter and exit the trench. The very next day inspectors found the same crew working at a different location, again without cave-in protection and a way in and out of the trench.

After inspectors left the site, employees were seen re-entering the unprotected trench; they scrambled back out as inspectors approached a second time. Shortly afterward, OSHA says a large section of the trench wall collapsed into the area of the trench where the employees were working.

Trenching tips worth repeating

Remind your crews that excavating and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. Urge them to be mindful of these basic rules:

  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
  • Keep surcharge loads at least two feet from trench edges.
  • Know where underground utilities are located.
  • Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases.
  • Inspect trenches at the start of each shift.
  • Inspect trenches following a rainstorm.
  • Do not work under raised loads.
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