Fatal Trench Collapse Leads to $201,600 Penalty for Excavator

OSHA has cited John Prouty Construction Inc. of O'Neill, Neb., for alleged violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act following an investigation of a trench collapse near Verdel, Neb., that killed four workers Sept. 12, 2008. The agency's investigation of the excavation company's site found three alleged willful and two alleged serious violations of the act.

"There is no excuse for this accident and these workers did not need to lose their lives. It is appalling to realize there are companies that would allow, or even require, their employees to enter excavations without having cave-in protection," said Charles Adkins, OSHA's regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo. "It is imperative that employers take the necessary steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment for all of their employees to prevent accidents like this from occurring."

The willful violations stem from the company's failure to instruct employees in recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions when working in a trench and not having a cave-in protection system. Furthermore, excavated spoils and other equipment were not kept two feet from the trench edge. OSHA issues a willful violation when an employer exhibits plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.

The serious violations stem from the lack of hard hat use by employees where an overhead hazard existed as well as failure to provide safe access into and egress from a trench greater than four feet in depth. OSHA issues a serious citation when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from a hazard that an employer knew or should have known about.

OSHA has proposed $201,600 in penalties against the company, which has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Omaha, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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