Summer is a busy time for construction in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England. In the rush to get things done while the weather conditions are good, some employers fail to provide adequate protections against hazards. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a construction company after a worker was hit by a partially suspended load of sewer pipe that was 12 feet long and falling to the bottom of an unprotected trench 13 feet deep. An excavator was moving the pipe. Two other workers were inside the unprotected trench installing a new sewer system.
The worker suffered a broken vertebra. OSHA cited the construction company and proposed $110,400 in fines for 11 safety violations, involving failing to protect against struck-by hazards and trench cave-in hazards. Ten serious violations were issued due to inadequate training, lack of adequate markings on rigging equipment, permitting an excavator to operate within 10 feet of energized overhead power lines, and lack of head protection.
OSHA also issued a willful violation for failing to make sure that workers were protected from cave-in when working in a trench deeper than five feet. All excavations five feet or deeper are required to be protected from collapse. Moreover, construction companies are not supposed to permit exposed and unprotected gas and water lines in a trench.
OSHA has had strict guidelines and enforcement to prevent trench and excavation collapse for more than 12 years. Six of OSHA’s 10 regions conduct local emphasis programs associated with trenching and excavation operations. Whenever an OSHA office receives notice of a trenching operation, including non-formal complaints or reports from the public, the office makes note of the state and condition of the operation, including its hazards, notes the name of the worksite and the contractor, and contacts the Area Office supervisor so that he or she can decide whether an inspection would be appropriate.
During an initial visit involving trenching or excavating, if someone from OSHA sees an obvious hazard in plain view, an inspection will be conducted even if it is inconvenient to contact a supervisor first. The supervisor is informed after the inspection is completed.
Typically supervisors only authorize inspections of trenching and excavation when an inspection already occurred if there are apparent serious violations. When a worksite hasn’t been inspected within the last 30 days, there will be an inspection unless it is obvious that the trench is less than five feet deep or is in compliance with all OSHA standards.
Broken vertebrae are actually among the more minor injuries that the worker above could have suffered. Excavation is one of the most dangerous construction activities. If a deep trench collapses or caves in, it can happen quickly, suffocating workers inside the trench. In this case, since the worker had suffered a broken vertebra, it would have been very difficult to get the worker out of the trench in time had the trench caved. If you are hit by an object or otherwise seriously injured while working as an employee on a construction site, you should contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for representation.
If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules or give you guidance if there is no insurance available. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.More Blog PostsSubmitting Additional Testimony in Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation, March 12, 2013