Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA Cites Rhode Island Contractors for Cave-In Hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) November 29 announced it had cited two Rhode Island contractors for cave-in hazards at the site of a Warwick, Rhode Island, sewer line excavation. The agency is seeking proposed penalties from the two employers of over $75,000.

The agency cited Reyes Landscaping for two willful and five serious violations, with $63,586 in proposed penalties for hazards observed at the site. OSHA also cited TRD Contracting for four serious violations, with penalties totaling $11,704.

 On July 8, an OSHA inspection at a sewer installation site at 1129 Main Ave. in Warwick determined employees of Reyes Landscaping Inc. of Johnston, Rhode Island, doing business as Reyes Landscaping & Masonry and TRD Contracting LLC of Greenville, were working in a 5- to 8-foot-deep trench without cave-in protection. The employers also had allowed soil removed from the trench to pile up at the trench’s edge, causing some material to fall back into the trench.

Other hazards identified July 8 by OSHA inspectors included:

  • A competent person, one with the knowledge and authority to identify and correct hazards, did not inspect the trench before work started.
  • Employees lacked helmets to protect against falling objects.
  • An inadequate ladder was used to enter and exit the trench.
  • An uninspected and unlabeled steel alloy chain sling was used to lift objects.

Agency inspectors returned to the worksite on July 13 and found that Reyes Landscaping had not corrected the hazards, continuing to expose its employees to cave-in and struck-by hazards in a 9-foot, 6-inch-deep trench.

“An unprotected trench can be an early grave. While no collapse occurred in Warwick, the danger to these workers was real and imminent. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car,” Robert Sestito, OSHA’s Providence, Rhode Island, area director, said in an agency statement.

“For the safety and survival of their employees, employers must ensure that workers enter trenches only after adequate protections are in place to address cave-ins and related hazards.”

Reyes Landscaping was cited for willful, serious violations of the excavation and protective systems standards and serious violations of the head protection, ladders, material-handling rigging equipment, and material-handling equipment standards. TRD Contracting was cited for serious violations of the excavation and protective systems, head protection, and ladders standards.

OSHA has a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on trenching and excavations encouraging employers to develop and implement safety procedures and train their workers on recognizing potentially hazardous situations. Trench collapses caused 24 deaths in the construction industry in 2019, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics fatal injury data.

Under OSHA’s trenching and excavation NEP, agency inspectors may open an NEP inspection any time they see an open trench or excavation, either during other inspections or their normal workday travel. They may conduct an inspection even if they are unable to contact the agency area office due to no mobile phone or landline service.