Contractor Receives Willful Citation for Niagara Falls Trench Work

OSHA has proposed $43,050 in fines against Custom Crews Inc., a Lockport, N.Y.-based contractor, for allegedly failing to provide cave-in protection for employees working in an unprotected 5-foot, 8-inch-deep trench located in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

"These citations highlight one of the most dangerous hazards in construction work," said Arthur Dube, OSHA's area director in Buffalo. "An unguarded excavation can collapse in seconds, crushing and burying workers beneath soil and debris before they have a chance to react or escape."

OSHA issued the company one willful citation with a $42,000 fine for not guarding the trench against a possible collapse of its sidewalls and one serious citation with a $1,050 fine for not having a ladder or other safe means for workers to exit the trench. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health, while a serious citation is issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.

"Warmer weather and the thawing of the soil means an increase in excavation work," said Dube. "Before that happens, I'm calling upon the region's employers to review their excavation safety procedures to ensure that no employee enters an excavation unless and until it is properly guarded against collapse."

OSHA standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be guarded against collapse by shoring of their sidewalls, sloping the sidewalls to a shallow angle or use of a protective trench box. Detailed information on excavation safety is available on OSHA's Web site at www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/index.html. One means by which an employer can reduce hazards is to establish an effective safety and health management system through which employers and employees work together to identify and eliminate work-related hazards, OSHA says.

Custom Crews has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with the OSHA area director in Buffalo, or contest the citations and proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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