Enforcement and Inspection

High Penalties Stand Up to Review in Alaska Trenching Fatality

A construction company must pay fines issued by Alaska OSHA in a trench collapse that took the life of an employee in a grisly trenching accident.

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The citations were contested by the contractor and brought before the Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Review Board. The incident took place in June 2015 when a 23-year-old worker was buried up to his waist by falling debris, and then dug out with heavy equipment. Alaska OSHA investigators arriving on the scene found numerous violations of trenching and excavation standards.

According to the state, the trench had no benching, shoring, or sloping to prevent a dangerous cave-in. Evidence showed that the employer was aware of the possibility of a trench collapse, yet chose to continue to work without taking preventive measures. Alaska OSHA issued eight citations, which were appealed by the construction company.

The review board upheld five willful violations, each carrying a $70,000 penalty, and determined that using an excavator to extricate the young worker was inherently dangerous and could have contributed to his death. As well, the review commission determined that the employer disregarded clear OSHA requirements for trenches and excavations.

The employer is appealing the decision of the review panel to the state superior court.

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