N.Y. Contractor Faces Fines for Cave-In Hazards

November 23, 2004

A Rochester, New York electrical contactor’s reported failure to supply cave-in protection for employees working in a six-foot, eight-inch deep trench in Blasdell has resulted in $67,000 in fines from the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Billitier Electric Inc. was cited for one alleged willful and one alleged serious violation of workplace safety standards following an Oct. 29 OSHA inspection prompted by a complaint about unsafe work conditions. Billiter Electrical was installing an electrical conduit in the trench as part of the expansion of the Wegmans Food Store on McKinley Parkway in Blasdell.

OSHA’s inspection found that the trench lacked any protection against a collapse of its sidewalls, resulting in a citation for an alleged willful violation, with $63,000 in proposed fines. OSHA defines a willful violation as one committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

“Cave-in protection is vital because the sides of a trench can collapse suddenly and with great force, stunning and burying workers beneath tons of soil and debris before they have a chance to react or escape,” said Art Dube, OSHA’s Buffalo area director. “Excavations five feet or deeper must be protected against collapse through shoring, sloping the soil at a shallow angle or by using a protective trench box.”

The company was also issued a serious citation and fined an additional $4,000 for failing to ensure that excavated materials were stored at least two feet from the trench’s edge. Failure to do so reportedly makes a collapse more likely. OSHA defines a serious violation as a condition where death or serious physical harm can result to an employee from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to request and participate in an informal conference with the OSHA area director or to contest them before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

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