Sewer Contractor Fined for Trenching Hazards

April 23, 2014

OSHA has cited Kuechle Underground Inc. of Kimball, Minn., for failing to protect workers from cave-in hazards after an employee’s leg was broken when a trench wall collapsed during a residential sewer line installation.

OSHA has proposed fines of $46,200 for the company, which specializes in sewer installation, and placed the company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

"It is unconscionable for employers, in this modern age of safety, to have employees working in excavations without adequate protection," said Eric Brooks, OSHA's area director in Bismarck. "OSHA implemented a trenching and excavation special emphasis program in the 1980s to address these hazards. Companies, such as Kuechle Underground, should be well-aware of the necessary safety procedures required to protect their workers."

On Oct. 31, 2013, the worker was operating a gas-powered soil packing machine and tamping down the sand surrounding the newly installed sewer line when a portion of the nearby trench wall collapsed on his leg, causing the injury. The excavation was approximately 19 feet deep.

The willful violation cites the company for failing to protect workers in an excavation and remove them from a hazardous situation that could result in a possible cave-in. A willful violation is one committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

OSHA standards mandate that all excavations 5 feet or deeper be protected against collapse. Detailed information on trenching and excavation hazards is available.

Kuechle Underground Inc. has been previously cited by the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration for multiple violations of trenching standards.

OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law and focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Under the program, OSHA may inspect any of the employer's facilities or job sites.


The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations 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.