The U.S. Department of Labor has sued DKS Structural Services and owner Jeffery Kennedy for allegedly terminating an employee who refused to enter a 15-foot-deep trench that did not have adequate protection to prevent cave-ins.
According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), on Jan. 16, the employee was directed to work in trenches between 6 and 15 feet deep at the company's job site. The walls of one trench, measured at approximately 15 feet deep, began to slide and cave in. The ladder that was used to get into and out of the trench broke from the dirt and mud caving in.
After the ladder broke, the employee was directed to access the inside of the same trench by being lowered in the bucket of a backhoe. The employee complained that he did not want to go back into such a deep trench without protection from further cave-ins. The employer allegedly told him "to get in the hole or go home." The employee refused to get back into the unprotected excavation and immediately was fired.
In addition to investigating the employee's complaint, OSHA conducted an inspection of the work site. On July 9, the agency issued citations to the employer carrying $122,400 in penalties for two willful and two serious violations related to excavation and personal protective equipment standards.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the company unlawfully and intentionally terminated the worker for engaging in activity protected by Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who report or refuse to work in unsafe conditions.