Salem - The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division (Oregon OSHA) has fined TC Excavating LLC $142,800 for five violations, including two willful violations. The citation was based on an investigation of a trench that collapsed and killed an employee.
The accident occurred on May 5, 2016, during the installation of a sewer line for a house in southwest Portland. The investigation found two employees were working in an improperly shored trench that was about 10 feet deep. The excavation was incorrectly braced because two pieces of shoring were spaced too far apart to handle unstable soil. One of the employees was on his hands and knees working between the two pieces of shoring – spaced 15 feet apart – when the unprotected wall collapsed. The collapse buried and killed the employee.
During the investigation, the company’s owner, who was on site, said he was negligent in allowing his employees to work in such a situation. He said he saw that the shoring was set up about 15 feet apart and that he knew it was not set up correctly. “I know the rules,” he said, noting he has more than 16 years of excavation experience.
“There is absolutely no good reason for an employer to disregard clear and time-tested excavation rules that protect workers from such tragedies,” said Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood. “This is a time to pause and remember that a young man died, leaving behind family and friends and co-workers. And it is a time to remind ourselves that this was not some sort of ‘freak accident.’ It was predictable and it was preventable.”
Oregon OSHA cited the company for two willful violations, each with the legal maximum penalty of $70,000. A willful violation occurs when an employer intentionally or knowingly allows a violation to occur.
One of the willful violations was based on the company’s failure to provide employees with an adequate system to protect them from cave-ins. Under Oregon OSHA rules, excavators must shield their workers from cave-in hazards by taking defined steps. Those steps include ensuring that shoring devices are properly installed according to written requirements approved by a professional engineer. Manual and visual soil tests also must be conducted.
The investigation found the shoring used by TC Excavating should have been spaced no more than eight feet apart. During the investigation, the company’s foreman said he had not read the written requirements for the shoring, even though it was available. He also said he did not know how to classify the soil type and did not do a manual or visual test.
The other willful violation stemmed from the company’s failure to provide employees with a ladder or other safe means to leave the trench. Oregon OSHA rules require an excavation that has a depth of four feet or more to have a ladder, stairway, or ramp within 25 feet of employees, whose safety may depend on how quickly they can climb out.
The owner of TC Excavating saw that employees had no ladder and said he did not know if a ladder was at the job site, according to the investigation. The foreman said employees were not using a ladder to get in and out of the trench. No ladder was found at the job site for employees to use, the investigation showed.
The following serious violations, totaling $2,800 in fines, were also found during the investigation:
- The company failed to inspect the excavation and protective system before employees went to work.
- The company failed to keep a pile of unearthed material away from the edge of the excavation, exposing employees to possible falling debris.
Oregon OSHA’s investigation also showed the company failed to document safety meetings.
For more information about Oregon OSHA’s rules regarding excavations visit the Excavations topic page. Learn about excavations and safe practices for small business owners and contractors in this Excavations publication