Contractor Cited for Trenching Violations for 8th Time

January 26, 2015

For the eighth time, OSHA has cited Northern Excavating Co. for allowing its employees to work in trenches without cave-in protection and a safe means to exit the trench.

In July 2014, OSHA inspectors witnessed two employees repairing a valve on a city water line in Ross in an 8-foot trench. An investigation followed, and the agency cited the company for two willful and one serious violation with penalties of $147,000. For its continual failure to protect workers from cave-in hazards, the Jamestown, N.D.-based company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The company has been cited eight times since 1997, and failed to pay its most recent penalties from a 2011 inspection.

"When it comes to worker safety, apathy can be fatal. A trench collapse can suffocate or crush a worker in seconds, a fact that Northern Excavating seems willing to repeatedly ignore and that must stop," said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck. "The company knows about trench safety and must provide a safe workplace for its employees."

OSHA initiated the inspection on July 9, 2014, under its National Emphasis Program for Trenching and Excavation. OSHA trenching standards mandate that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse.

Northern Excavating was cited for not providing a protective system for the trench and failing to have a designated, competent person available to remove an employee from the hazardous trench, if necessary. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirement, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

The company also failed to provide workers a safe means of exit from the trench, resulting in one serious violation. An OSHA violation is serious if death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

Northern Excavating employs about 25 workers. The company 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 citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.