SALINA, KS ‒ In a trench 9 feet below the surface, a worker employed by Precision Plumbing LLC was connecting a plumbing line to the municipal sewer in Salina in January when he was buried under dirt and rocks after a trench wall collapsed.

The company’s foreman entered the trench and tried to dig the worker out. Soon after, he then became buried up to his knees when the trench wall collapsed further. For more than an hour, first responders worked to rescue the two workers. Both survived one of the construction industry’s most serious hazards.

In an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, inspectors determined the trench had no protection against cave-ins and the employer allowed soil piles and equipment within 2 feet of the excavation’s edge. OSHA found Precision Plumbing’s violations of these federal trench safety regulations willful.

Inspectors learned that a superintendent with the site’s general contractor, Multicon Inc. — a Wichita-based construction company — had identified the trench collapse hazards to the Precision Plumbing foreman but left the site before making certain the subcontractor corrected the hazard.

“Fortunately, first responders rescued two workers when a 9-foot trench collapsed. This incident is a stark reminder of how soil can shift suddenly and bury a person within seconds,” explained OSHA Area Director Todd Underwood in Wichita, Kansas. “Many other workers are less fortunate. In fact, OSHA investigated the deaths of 39 workers in trench collapses in 2022 alone.”

OSHA’s investigation led the agency to issue Precision Plumbing, located in Cheney, two willful and six serious violations with proposed penalties of $333,949. In addition to the willful violations related to the trench collapse, investigators found the company failed to do the following:

Make sure workers wore hard hats when exposed to overhead struck-by hazards.
Protect workers from drowning hazards due to an unsupported water pipe in the trench.
Provide workers with eye protection when workers were using chemicals.
Develop a program on chemical hazards and train workers on how to use chemicals safely.
OSHA also cited Multicon Inc., the general contractor, for one serious violation for failing to protect employees from cave-in and engulfment hazards. The agency proposed penalties of $14,063.

OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems in 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 competent 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.

Each June, the National Utility Contractors Association and OSHA recognize Trench Safety Month..

OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions. including a safety video.                                                            

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