$169,000 Fine Issued to Conn. Contractor for Cave-In Hazards

An inspection by OSHA's Hartford Area Office found that the cave-in hazard was intensified by the presence of an unsupported sidewalk and catch basin overhanging the trench.

OSHA has proposed a total of $169,000 in fines against contractor Penney Construction Co. LLC in Hartford, Conn., chiefly for exposing its workers to cave-in hazards while repairing a sewer line in a 10-foot-deep trench.

An inspection by OSHA's Hartford Area Office found that not only did the trench lack any protection to prevent the walls from collapsing onto workers, the cave-in hazard was intensified by the presence of an unsupported sidewalk and catch basin overhanging the trench. OSHA standards require that trenches or excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse through shoring, sloping of the soil, or use of a protective trench box. Even after being informed that the conditions posed an imminent danger, the employer continued to send workers into the trench, according to OSHA. These hazards resulted in citations for two willful violations with $140,000 in fines.

Five serious violations with $29,000 in fines involve rocks and soil falling into the trench, not testing the sewer line for hazardous atmospheres, a lack of personal protective equipment and not adequately training the workers to recognize the hazards associated with their work.

"This employer repeatedly sent its workers into harm's way even after being told that the unguarded trench posed a clear, immediate, and potentially deadly threat," said Paul Mangiafico, OSHA's area director in Hartford. "These workers could have been crushed or buried alive in seconds."

OSHA has placed Penney Construction in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

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