OSHA Proposes $122,400 in Fines for Contractor's Unsafe Trenching

Whistleblower was terminated when he refused to go back into an unprotected Huntsville, AL, trench after a cave-in

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited DKS Structural Services Inc., doing business as Don Kennedy and Sons House Moving Co., for four trenching violations and proposed penalties total $122,400. OSHA opened an investigation after receiving a complaint from a whistleblower who alleged he was terminated for refusing to enter an unprotected trench. At the time of the incident, workers were repairing a foundation at 1200 Shadow Ridge Drive in Huntsville.

Two willful violations involve failing to provide a safe means of entrance and exit from an excavation and not providing cave-in protection for employees working in a trench that was 15 feet deep. 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. The citations carry $112,000 in penalties.

Two serious violations involve exposing employees to fall and crushing hazards by allowing them to stand in a backhoe bucket as a means to lower and raise them in the excavation, as well as exposing workers to "struck-by" hazards from loose soil, rocks and equipment by not having them wear head protection. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known. The citations carry $10,400 in proposed penalties.

"This employer knowingly put workers at risk of serious injury or death by ordering them back to work in an unprotected trench after experiencing a cave-in," said Lisa Strunk, OSHA's acting area director in Birmingham. "Risking the safety of workers is not an acceptable business decision."

OSHA standards mandate that all excavations five feet or deeper be protected against collapse. Detailed information on trenching and excavation hazards is available on OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/index.html.

The citations in this case can be viewed at http://www.osha.gov/ooc/citations/DKS_Structural_Services_316228519_0711_12.pdf*.
This Section 11(c) whistleblower investigation has been referred to the department's Office of the Solicitor for potential litigation.

DKS Structural Services Inc. is based in Huntsville and specializes in structural relocation, foundation repair and leveling. The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director in Birmingham 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 Birmingham Area Office at 205-731-1564.