$66,000 Fine Issued in Fatal California Trench Collapse

On May 9, two Empire Equipment Services workers were installing sewer pipes at the site when a 30-foot-wide section of the trench's sidewall sloughed and collapsed. Only one of the workers was able to escape.

Cal/OSHA has cited a contractor and issued a $66,000 penalty in connection with a fatal trench collapse at a Lake Forest residential construction site. A worker died with a 17-foot-deep trench collapsed on him. The agency said its investigators determined that Empire Equipment Services, Inc. did not properly classify the soil and failed to correctly slope the excavation.

On May 9, two Empire Equipment Services workers were installing sewer pipes at the site when a 30-foot-wide section of the trench's sidewall sloughed and collapsed. Only one of the workers was able to escape. Cal/OSHA's investigation found the company failed to ensure the site was inspected by someone who was deemed competent by the employer and familiar with trench hazards, soil classification, and the appropriate safety requirements. The soil at the work site was unstable, requiring an adequate protective system.

"Because working in excavations is so dangerous, a competent person must conduct thorough visual and manual tests to properly classify the soil and adequately protect employees from cave-ins," said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. "Failing to carry out these requirements can be fatal."

Cal/OSHA issued citations to Empire Equipment Services Inc. for two serious accident-related violations and one general violation with $66,000 in proposed penalties. One of the serious violations is classified as repeat. In August 2017, Cal/OSHA had cited the employer, with $24,670 in penalties, for serious safety violations after conducting an inspection at another site in Lake Forest. During that inspection, Cal/OSHA found that the employer had exposed its workers to serious hazards while working in a trench more than 5 feet deep without properly sloping or installing any adequate protective systems.

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