Kuechle Underground Inc. has been cited with one willful safety violation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to protect workers from cave-in hazards. OSHA initiated the inspection after an employee's leg was broken when a trench wall collapsed while he was installing residential sewer lines in Mapleton, ND. OSHA has proposed fines of $46,200 for the Kimball, Minn.,-based company, which specializes in sewer installation and placed the company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
"It is unconscionable for employers, in this modern age of safety, to have employees working in excavations without adequate protection," said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck. "OSHA implemented a trenching and excavation special emphasis program in the 1980s to address these hazards. Companies, such as Kuechle Underground, should be well-aware of the necessary safety procedures required to protect their workers."
On Oct. 31, 2013, the worker was operating a gas-powered soil packing machine and tamping down the sand surrounding the newly installed sewer line when a portion of the nearby trench wall collapsed on his leg, causing the injury. The excavation was approximately 19 ft. deep.
The willful violation cites the company for failing to protect workers in an excavation and remove them from a hazardous situation that could result in a possible cave-in. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
OSHA standards mandate that all excavations 5 ft. or deeper be protected against collapse. Detailed information on trenching and excavation hazards is available.
Kuechle Underground Inc. has been previously cited by the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration for multiple violations of trenching standards.
OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law and focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities or job sites.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA's toll-free hotline at 800-321-OSHA (6742) or the agency's Bismarck office at (701) 250-4521.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA's role is to ensure these conditions for America's working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.