PROVIDENCE, RI – The sidewalls of an unprotected trench can collapse without warning and with great force – crushing and sometimes suffocating workers beneath tons of soil and debris – before they can react or escape. A federal inspection at a Warwick excavation found two area contractors ignoring the risks and placing their workers in serious danger.
On July 8, a U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection at a sewer installation site 1129 Main Ave. in Warwick determined employees of Reyes Landscaping Inc. – doing business as Reyes Landscaping & Masonry in Johnston – and TRD Contracting LLC in Greenville, were working in a 5 to 8 foot deep trench without cave-in protection. Adding to the hazard, the employer allowed soil removed from the trench to pile up at the trench’s edge, causing some materials to fall back into the trench.
Inspectors also identified the following hazards:
A competent person – one with the knowledge and authority to identify and correct hazards – did not inspect the trench before starting work.
The employees lacked helmets to protect against falling objects.
Using an inadequate ladder to enter and exit the trench.
Using an uninspected and unlabeled steel alloy chain sling to lift objects.
OSHA returned to the work site on July 13 and found that Reyes Landscaping had not corrected the hazards, continuing to expose its employees to cave-in and struck-by hazards in a 9 foot, 6 inch deep trench. As a result, OSHA cited Reyes Landscaping for two willful and five serious violations, with $63,586 in proposed penalties for hazards observed on both dates. Separately, the agency cited TRD Contracting for four serious violations, with $11,704 in penalties, for the July 8 hazards.
“An unprotected trench can be an early grave. While no collapse occurred in Warwick, the danger to these workers was real and imminent. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car,” said OSHA Area Director Robert Sestito in Providence, Rhode Island. “For the safety and survival of their employees, employers must ensure that workers enter trenches only after adequate protections are in place to address cave-ins and related hazards.”
In 2019, trench collapses caused 24 deaths in the construction industry, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavations encourages employers to develop and implement safety procedures and train their workers on recognizing potentially hazardous situations. Learn more about trenching and excavation safety.
Each employer has 15 business days from receipt of its 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.
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 workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.