CAUTIONARY TALES EPISODE 23 « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Construction Accidents Kill Two with Resulting Large Fines against the Employers

Two recent Cal/OSHA cases underscore the need for effective safety measures, especially in hazardous conditions. Cal/OSHA cited two employers after an employee of each died as the result of a trench collapse.

In April 2018, Bay Construction Co. was installing underground pump equipment at a shoreline in Oakland. The company dismantled a trench box (steel safety/shielding device) while a worker was sill compacting dirt inside the trench.  Another worker was removing 5,000-pound rails with an excavator containing inadequate hooks. One of the hooks failed, causing a rail to fall and kill the worker in the trench.

Cal/OSHA met that safety lapse with nine citations, totaling $141,075 in proposed penalties. Failure to ensure no worker was in the trench while it was being dismantled was a willful-serious accident-related offense, while failure to use adequate hooks was a serious accident-related offense.  Cal/OSHA deemed the other offenses, including not conducting daily inspections for hazards and not following the company’s Illness and Injury Prevention Program, as serious violations.

Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum stated: “Shield systems are designed to protect employees from cave-ins when working in an excavation. Employers must ensure that no one is inside of the excavation when the protective system is being installed or removed.”

Another trench accident prompted Cal/OSHA to issue citations for $66,000 worth of serious safety violations against Empire Equipment Services, Inc. of Riverside. In that case, a 30-foot wide section of a trench being used for a sewer pipe installation collapsed, fatally injuring one of two workers, while the other worker fortunately escaped.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation of that collapse concluded that the soil was unstable and did not adequately support the trench. The employer had not conducted adequate advance inspection by a trained professional knowledgeable in soils, trench hazards, and correct safety measures. This resulted in one general violation and two serious accident-related violations, one of which was exacerbated by a prior similar violation.

In this case, Chief Juliann Sum noted: “Because working in excavations is so dangerous, a competent person must conduct thorough visual and manual tests to properly classify the soil and adequately protect employees from cave-ins. Failing to carry out these requirements can be fatal.”

Safeguarding human life and avoiding injuries should be sufficient incentive for companies to take all needed measures for worker safety. Protecting the bottom line from expensive citations is another important reason to do so. Whether the work setting is a construction site or an office, the foundation for safety is having, implementing and enforcing an Illness and Injury Prevention Program (IIPP), to include such things as training, necessary safety practices, and use of correct equipment and appropriate experts when needed. Cal/OSHA has many resources to help employers with their IIPPs and safety planning.

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For further information, please contact Tim Bowles, Cindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

December 28, 2018