Lack of Cave-in Protection Prompts On-the-Spot Inspection, Citations

An unprotected excavation and other hazards at a Hillsborough, N.H., jobsite have resulted in OSHA proposing $76,500 in fines against a Pembroke, N.H.-based contractor. East Coast Utilities was cited for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards at a sewer line installation site located at the intersection of West Main and School Streets. OSHA opened its inspection on July 23, 2007, after agency inspectors spotted an employee entering an apparent unprotected excavation. The inspection revealed that employees working in an excavation that ranged from 8 feet, 5 inches to 11 feet, 6 inches in depth lacked adequate protection against a potential collapse of its walls. OSHA standards require that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse.

As a result, OSHA issued the company one willful citation, with a proposed fine of $70,000, for the lack of cave-in protection. "An unprotected excavation can collapse in moments, burying employees beneath tons of soil and debris before they have a chance to react or escape," said Francis Pagliuca, OSHA's acting area director in Concord. "The hazard is so severe that OSHA inspectors will stop and open an inspection on the spot whenever they observe an unprotected excavation, as happened in this case."

Three serious citations, carrying an additional $6,500 in fines, were issued for other hazards identified during the inspection. These included an excavator and a section of concrete curbing located within two feet of the excavation's edge; a ladder that did not extend at least 3 feet above the edge of the excavation; and a backhoe that lacked a backup alarm or a spotter to warn employees. "Left uncorrected, these conditions expose employees to the hazards of engulfment, crushing, falls and being struck by the backhoe," Pagliuca said. Detailed information on trenching and excavation safety, including an interactive e-Tool, is available on OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov/SLTC/constructiontrenching/index.html.

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