A Blue Springs, Missouri, contractor is facing $796,817 in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines for trenching and other safety violations. The agency cited Arrow Plumbing and owner Rick Smith for four willful violations, one repeat violation, and seven serious violations of federal safety standards.
The Missouri contractor exposed two workers to the life-threatening risk of being buried by thousands of pounds of soil as they worked in an unprotected trench weakened by water pooling in an excavation site, according to the agency.
Following an October 2021 inspection, OSHA cited Arrow Plumbing for two instances of willfully allowing workers to enter the trench without providing cave-in protection, as well as willful citations for:
- Allowing water to accumulate in the trench, which compromised the integrity of the excavation’s walls;
- Failing to keep soil piles at least 2 feet (ft) from the edge of the excavation;
- Allowing workers to walk under suspended loads;
- Failing to provide hard hats;
- Using ladders improperly;
- Failing to train workers; and
- Exposing workers to struck-by hazards.
Arrow Plumbing has a significant history of OSHA violations, according to the agency.
“Even though Arrow Plumbing and owner Rick Smith agreed to implement a comprehensive trench safety program after a previous fatal trench collapse, employees were again found to be working in an unprotected trench,” Karena Lorek, OSHA’s Kansas City, Missouri, area director, said in an agency statement. “This conduct is unacceptable, and OSHA will do everything possible to hold Mr. Smith accountable for failing to protect his workers.”
Following a fatality investigation in 2016, Arrow agreed to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement entered before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission in 2018.
The agreement required the company to hire a safety consultant to design and implement a trench safety program and ensure employees complete OSHA construction and trenching and excavation training courses. However, Arrow Plumbing did not hire a safety consultant until February 1, 2021, 3 years after it promised to do so. The agreement also called for the company to pay $225,000 in previous fines via 5 payments of $45,000 over 4 years. Arrow has only made 1 payment to date, according to OSHA.
In August 2020, OSHA cited the company again after it discovered an employee working in another unprotected trench in Grain Valley, Missouri. The company has contested the citations.
“Arrow Plumbing and Rick Smith’s extensive history of OSHA inspections and their agreement with OSHA appear to have had little impact on their daily operations and their promise to implement OSHA and industry-recommended safety precautions,” Steven J. Kaplan, OSHA’s acting Region 7 administrator, says. “All of this, despite knowing firsthand how deadly a trench collapse can be.”
OSHA’s trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 ft, and soil and other materials must be kept at least 2 ft from the edge of a trench. Trenches also must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards, and have a safe means of entering and exiting before allowing a worker to enter.
The agency has a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on trenching and excavations, and the National Utility Contractors Association has declared June 2022 Trench Safety Month. Additionally, OSHA will collaborate with the association for “Trench Safety Stand-Down” week, which is June 20–24.