Occupational Health & Safety

Pipe Layer's Death in Trench Leads to $44,500 Penalty

OSHA's area office in Boise, Idaho, has cited Bowman's Inc. of Mountain Home, Idaho, for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act related to unsafe working conditions in trenches, resulting in a fatality at a worksite in Pocatello, Idaho.

The agency's investigation following the death of a pipe layer buried in a trench on Sept. 16, 2009, found two alleged willful and three alleged serious violations. Proposed penalties against Bowman's, a plumbing and HVAC contractor, total $44,500.

"Unprotected trenches can become deathtraps in an instant when cave-ins occur," said Richard S. Terrill, OSHA's regional administrator in Seattle. "This employer did not take the necessary steps to address hazards ahead of time and to educate employees on safe trench operations."

The willful violations involve a foreman who was aware of the hazardous conditions and failed to act, and failing to provide cave-in protection for employees working outside the trench shield. OSHA issues a willful citation when an employer exhibits plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

The alleged serious violations are for failing to protect workers exposed to an unsupported, exposed active gas line; failing to provide a ladder for access and exit of employees working outside of the trench shield; and improper use of the trench shield.

OSHA standards mandate that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse. Detailed information on trenching and excavation hazards is available on OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/index.html.

Bowman's has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Boise, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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