MONROEVILLE, OH ‒ An Ohio excavation contractor, cited six times since 2017 for ignoring federal trench-safety rules, allowed employees to work with damaged safety equipment on July 26, 2022, the day a 33-year-old worker in Columbus suffered fatal injuries, a federal workplace safety investigation has found.
The worker was pinned between the “spreader” bars of a trench box and the wall of a 7-foot-deep excavation. OSHA investigators found a sling hook came loose while the box was suspended in the trench.
Before the tragedy, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration observed Underground Utilities Inc. of Monroeville exposing crews to trenching hazards that same day at a Sandusky worksite and at another in Avon Lake five days earlier, on July 21, 2022. The crews were replacing municipal sewer and water lines at the time.
“A worker’s life was cut short because this employer used faulty equipment,” said OSHA Area Director Larry Johnson in Columbus, Ohio. “These three investigations at different sites in the same week show Underground Utilities’ lack of concern for employee well-being by failing to follow federal safety regulations and industry-recognized best practices.”
At all three work sites, OSHA found the company failed to ensure required cave-in protection was in place and properly used. Inspectors also discovered the employer neglected to keep a spoils pile away from the edge of the trench, used unsafe rigging to hoist trench boxes and damaged cave-in protection.
OSHA’s investigations in Columbus, Sandusky and Avon Lake prompted the agency to issue citations to Underground Utilities for one willful violation, two repeat and five serious violations of federal trenching and excavation standards. The agency also cited the company for failing to report the fatality within eight hours, as the law requires. The company faces proposed penalties of $251,517.
Trench collapses are among the construction industry’s most lethal hazards. The death in Columbus was one of 39 reported to the OSHA in 2022.
“Contractors who continually ignore safety requirements are gambling with their workers’ lives as the odds are tragedy will eventually strike,” said OSHA Area Director Todd Jensen in Toledo. “Workers must be told before entering a trench that it must have adequate cave-in protection, a safe way to get in and out and no potential hazards that can collapse on them.”
OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.
OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Learn more about OSHA.