Enforcement and Inspection, Personnel Safety

MA Contractor Facing $1.3 Million Fine After Trench Fatalities

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a Wayland, Massachusetts, contractor and his processor and successor companies with 28 willful, repeat, serious, and other-than-serious safety and health violations following two trenching fatalities. The agency seeks a total of $1,350,884 in penalties.

Atlantic Coast Utilities LLC/Advanced Utilities Inc.; its predecessor company Shannon Construction Corp.; their owner, Laurence Moloney; and his successor company, Sterling Excavation LLC, have a long history of ignoring the safety and health of their employees, according to the agency.

Jordy Alexander Castaneda Romero, 27, and Juan Carlos Figueroa Gutierrez, 33, died February 24 at a sewer repair worksite on High Street in downtown Boston after a dump truck struck and pushed them into a 9-foot-deep trench.

“Two hardworking people lost their lives because Atlantic Coast Utilities put its own profits over workers’ safety and health,” Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in a statement. Walsh served as Boston’s mayor before his nomination to lead the Department of Labor. Doug Parker was nominated to be assistant secretary to head OSHA but has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Given the severity and nature of the worksite hazards and the employer’s history of violations, OSHA used its egregious citation policy, which allows the agency to propose a separate penalty for each instance of a violation.

The employer failed to train Romero, Gutierrez, and other workers to recognize and avoid work-related hazards. OSHA inspectors also found that Atlantic Coast Utilities LLC/Advanced Utilities Inc. failed to conduct worksite inspections to identify and correct hazards, including the risks of being struck by construction vehicles and other traffic, crushed or engulfed in an unguarded trench, and overcome by oxygen-deficient or toxic atmospheres in the trench and an adjacent manhole.

 OSHA currently has a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on trenching and excavation.

Agency reminder for SD employers

The agency’s Sioux Falls Area Office recently reminded South Dakota employers of the agencywide NEP and employers’ duty to protect workers from hazards inherent to trenching and excavation sites.

“In recent months, we have seen an increase in trench-related inspections during this construction season, especially in Rapid City,” Sioux Falls Area Director Sheila Stanley said in a statement.

“In a matter of seconds, thousands of pounds of soil can bury workers and turn a trench into a death trap,” Stanley continued. “We cannot overemphasize that employers must review safety measures and take necessary actions to prevent serious injuries or worse.”

Four days before Christmas 2020, an excavation company owner was fixing an underground sewer line in Rapid City when the trench around him collapsed, ending his life under thousands of pounds of dirt. Two other workers were injured in separate trench incidents in Rapid City about six months later. One suffered a minor injury while buried in dirt up to his waist for several hours awaiting rescue, and another was removed from a narrow 8-foot trench that lacked cave-in protection.

Trench collapses remain among the construction industry’s most dangerous hazards, according to the agency, causing 130 preventable construction industry deaths from 2011 to 2016.