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December 11, 2023
OSHA slaps $1.8 million fine on Minnesota contractor

Minnesota contractor Wagner Construction Inc. faces $1.8 million in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines for a serious violation and 16 repeat violations involving trenching and excavation hazards, the agency announced December 5.

Despite signing a 2021 settlement agreement with the agency that included a promise to protect its employees from trenching and excavation hazards, Wagner Construction of International Falls, Minnesota, was again found endangering employees in June 2023 as they replaced a residential water main and 20 separate curb stop valves for house connections in Minot, North Dakota. 

In April 2021, Wagner Construction pledged to improve its safety procedures and training in a settlement agreement with OSHA to resolve violations of federal workplace safety regulations. Agency inspectors had cited the company at three North Dakota jobsites in 2019 and 2020 for exposing employees to excavation hazards.

The agreement included the company’s commitment to do the following:

  • Make significant changes in training for managers and supervisors and all other employees on trenching and excavation safety.
  • Hire a full-time safety and compliance manager.
  • Purchase new safety equipment to protect workers against cave-ins and related hazards.

Wagner provided OSHA confirmation in 2021 that the company had hired an external consultant and purchased the necessary equipment. 

Responding to a complaint, agency inspectors discovered unprotected trenches in Minot on June 7 on 7th Avenue NW between 15th and 16th Streets NW. Agency inspectors also learned that the company, from at least June 1 through June 7, exposed workers to trenching hazards at its worksites.

“Wagner Construction failed to keep their promises to the U.S. government and its employees by ignoring one of the construction industry’s most lethal hazards,” Jennifer Rous, OSHA’s Region 8 administrator, said in an agency statement.

“In 2022, 39 people died while doing trenching and excavation work—the highest number in almost 20 years—making this company’s unwillingness to protect its employees truly disturbing. With the substantial increase in the number of construction projects in North Dakota and across the nation, employers like Wagner Construction must take all necessary steps to make sure employees are safe on job sites.”

Last year, OSHA announced plans for 1,000 inspections in response to the spike in trenching and excavation fatalities. The agency also has an ongoing National Emphasis Program (NEP) of outreach, inspection, and enforcement to address trenching and excavation hazards.

OSHA’s trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials must be kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Trenches also must be free of atmospheric hazards and standing water, have a safe means of entering and exiting, and be inspected by a knowledgeable person before allowing a worker to enter.

OSHA also collaborates with the National Utility Contractors Association and the North American Excavation Shoring Association for an annual Trench Safety Stand Down Week each June. The stand-down raises awareness of the dangers of trenching and excavation and promotes the use of protective systems, such as sloping, shoring, and shielding, through webinars, presentations, and individual company safety training.

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