Employees of C & G Refrigeration Inc. were twice exposed to trench collapses, according to OSHA investigations. In April 2013, OSHA cited C & G, a Hanover, Pa., plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractor, with four safety violations after a trench collapse at a work site in Hanover. Though there were no injuries in the collapse, investigators found employees working in an unprotected trench that was 7-feet deep.
Despite the employer's awareness of trenching safety requirements, an August 2014 complaint investigation by OSHA found that C & G again exposed workers to potentially deadly trenching hazards while they performed underground utility work at a residence in Hanover. Investigators observed an employee working at the bottom of an unprotected trench that was 13-feet deep. They also observed a trench that was not widened with approved methods, such as benching or sloping, and determined that the employer did not provide any physical protection, such as trench shields or boxes.
"An unprotected trench can quickly become a grave without the proper safeguards in place. This is why it is critical for employers in this industry to ensure that trenching safeguards are in place," said Kevin Kilp, director of OSHA's Harrisburg Area Office. "This employer's history shows that it is fully aware of the dangers of trenching and excavation, yet they continue to put their worker's lives at risk."
C & G was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program due to four willful violations related to trenching hazards, including:
- Allowing employees to work in a trench without protection from a cave-in or an adequate protective system;
- Failure to protect employees from hazards by ensuring unsafe excavation materials were kept at least 2 feet back from the excavation's edge;
- Failure to instruct employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions while performing trenching and excavation work; and
- Failure to have a competent person conduct an investigation of the excavation.
These violations carry a $61,600 penalty. A willful violation is one in which an employer intentionally and knowingly commits a violation with plain indifference to the law.
Additionally, the employer did not ensure workers used a protective helmet while in a trench. This serious violation carries a penalty of $3,080. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.
C & G 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.