Cave-in at Sewer Installation Leads to $55,000 Fine

OSHA has proposed a total of $55,000 in fines against Northeast Earth Mechanics Inc. of Pittsfield, N.H., for alleged willful and serious violations of safety standards following a cave-in at a sewer installation worksite in Littleton, N.H.

An OSHA inspector opened an inspection upon observing a Northeast Earth employee working in an apparently unprotected 10- to 11-foot-deep excavation. Five minutes after the worker was instructed to exit the excavation, one of its sidewalls collapsed. Had the worker still been in the excavation, he could have been crushed or buried by the cave-in.

"This is a textbook example of how an excavation can become a grave in seconds," said Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA's area director for New Hampshire. "This worker was fortunate--this time. However, worker safety cannot and must not be a matter of luck. Never permit one of your employees into an excavation until its walls are guarded against collapse."

OSHA issued Northeast Earth one willful citation, with a proposed fine of $49,000, for not guarding the excavation against collapse, and three serious citations with $6,000 in fines for not supporting an undermined section of sidewalk to prevent its collapse into the excavation, no safe means for workers to exit the excavation, and lack of confined space training and equipment.

OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health. Serious citations are issued when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known. Agency standards require that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapses before workers enter them. Detailed information on excavation hazards and safeguards is available online at www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/index.html.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA, or contest the finding before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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