SIOUX FALLS, SD – Twice in seven days, federal workplace safety inspectors found a Sioux Falls contractor put workers at risk of being buried under thousands of pounds of soil while they worked in unprotected trenches at two locations in Tea and Salem.
The discovery continues H&W Contracting LLC’s history of disregarding the serious and often fatal dangers associated with working in an unprotected trench and federal law. Since 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the company three times for similar violations.
Most recently, OSHA inspectors responded to a complaint on Nov.16, 2021, and found H&W Contracting workers in an unprotected trench in Tea as they installed a 6-inch waterline to a fire hydrant at 271st Street and Kerslake Place.
Six days later, another complaint led OSHA to open a second inspection where it was discovered that company employees were working in five separate unprotected trenches as they replaced storm sewers with new ones in Salem on Nov. 22, 2021.
“Each site had a different foreman, different crew members and a different scope of work. The common thread is H&W Contracting’s continued failure to protect its workers,” said OSHA Area Director Sheila Stanley in Sioux Falls. “Trench collapses are among the construction industry’s most deadly hazards. Workers caught when thousands of pounds of loose soil and rocks pour on and around them often suffer serious injuries or worse. H&W Contracting must change the way it operates before disaster strikes.”
After the November inspection, the agency identified one willful and three serious violations and proposed $122,838 in penalties from the Tea location and one willful violation with proposed penalties of $95,718 for the Salem location.
From 2011-2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 166 workers died in trench collapses. In 2019, OSHA notes at least 24 workers died while working on trenching and excavation projects.
In both inspections, OSHA found H&W failed to install trench protection systems and that a competent person failed to remove workers from hazardous situations. In Tea, the company also failed to protect gas, electric, water and communications systems from struck-by or other hazards and did not extend a ladder three feet above the edge of the excavation to allow for safe egress from the trench.
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 two 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.
The National Utility Contractors Association has declared June 2022 “Trench Safety Month.” OSHA will collaborate with the association for “Trench Safety Stand-Down” week, June 20-24.
OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.
Learn more about OSHA.