U.S. Department of Labor Cites Two Rhode Island Contractors for Exposing Workers to Cave-in Hazards

U.S. Department of Labor Cites Two Rhode Island Contractors for Exposing Workers to Cave-in Hazards

Reyes Landscaping Inc., TRD Contracting LLC faces $75k in penalties.

The sidewalls of an unprotected trench can collapse at any time without warning with great force – crushing and sometimes suffocating workers beneath tons of soil and debris – before they can escape. A federal inspection at a Warwick excavation was conducted and found two area contractors ignoring the risks and placing their workers in serious danger.

On July 8, the U.S. DOL’s OSHA inspection at a sewer installation site determined employees of Reyes Landscaping Inc. – doing business as Reyes Landscaping & Masonry in Johnston – and TRD Contracting LLC in Greenville, were working in a five to eight foot deep trench without cave-in protection. Adding to the hazard, the employer allowed soil removed from the trench to pile up at the trench’s edge, causing some materials to fall back into the trench.

Inspectors also identified the following hazards, according to a press release:

  • A competent person: one with the knowledge and authority to identify and correct hazards did not inspect the trench before starting work.
  • The employees lacked helmets to protect against falling objects.
  • Using an inadequate ladder to enter and exit the trench.
  • Using an un-inspected and unlabeled steel alloy chain sling to lift objects.

OSHA returned to the work site on July 13 and found that Reyes Landscaping had not corrected the hazards, continuing to expose its employees to cave-in and struck-by hazards in a 9 foot, six inch deep trench. As a result, OSHA cited the company for two willful and five serious violations, with $63,586 in proposed penalties for hazards observed on both dates. Separately, the agency cited TRD Contracting for four serious violations, with $11,704 in penalties, for the July 8 hazards.

"An unprotected trench can be an early grave. While no collapse occurred in Warwick, the danger to these workers was real and imminent. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car," said OSHA Area Director Robert Sestito in Providence, Rhode Island. "For the safety and survival of their employees, employers must ensure that workers enter trenches only after adequate protections are in place to address cave-ins and related hazards."

Data from the Bureau of Labor and statistics shows that in 2019, trench collapses caused 24 deaths in the construction industry. OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavations encourages employers to develop and implement safety procedures and train their workers on recognizing potentially hazardous situations. Learn more about trenching and excavation safety. Each employer has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent OSHRC.

About the Author

Shereen Hashem is the Associate Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety magazine.

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