Builders Cited for Impalement, Cave-In Hazards at Synagogue Site

Responding to a complaint of potentially unsafe conditions at a synagogue under construction in Newton, Mass., OSHA found that employees of Telsi Builders, the project's Newton-based general contractor, and its concrete subcontractor, Ocean State Forms Inc. of Cumberland, R.I., were working in excavations up to 14 feet deep that lacked protection against a collapse of their sidewalls.

"Workers at this site were needlessly exposed to cave-in hazards on multiple occasions," said Paul Mangiafico, OSHA's area director for Middlesex and Essex counties in Massachusetts. "In one instance, had the unprotected 14-foot-high excavation wall collapsed, it would have engulfed workers pouring concrete formwork and crushed them beneath tons of concrete as well as soil and debris."

OSHA said the cave-in hazards were exacerbated by the placement of excavated spoils at the edge of excavations and the lack of a safe means of exiting the excavations. Workers for both contractors also risked impalement on unguarded protruding steel rebar, falls into uncovered 7-foot deep holes, and head injuries from a lack of protective helmets for workers in the excavations. In addition, Telsi employees were exposed to additional fall hazards from defective and uninspected ladders and while crossing over an excavation on a plank that lacked guardrails, the agency said.

As a result of these conditions, Telsi and Ocean State both have been issued four willful citations, with $84,000 apiece in fines; Telsi has been issued four serious citations, with $7,200 in fines; Ocean State has been issued two serious citations, with $3,600 in fines. Telsi faces a total of $91,200 in fines, while Ocean State faces a total of $87,600. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for worker safety and health, while 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.

"With the coming of warmer weather and thawing of the soil, I urge employers to review their work practices, equipment, and training to ensure that none of their employees enters an excavation unless and until it is properly guarded," said Mangiafico. "Their workers' lives could depend on it."

Both companies have 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with the OSHA area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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