OSHA Assesses Top Fine After Cave-In at University of Rochester

January 13, 2006

The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is seeking the maximum fine the law allows following a fatal cave-in at the University of Rochester in New York.

Ferguson-Hall Co. Inc., a Rochester excavation contactor, faces a $70,000 fine as a result of a July 20 accident in which one of its employees died after the bank of an unprotected 8 1/2-foot deep water line excavation collapsed on him. OSHA’s inspection reportedly found that the excavation had no cave-in protection.

“This accident should never have happened,” said Art Dube, OSHA’s area director for western New York. “The employer knew that this excavation should have been protected against collapse and that employees should not have been working in it until such protection was in place and in use.”

As a result, OSHA cited Ferguson-Hall for an alleged willful violation of safety standards that require collapse protection. 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.

Dube explained that OSHA standards require that all excavations five feet or deeper be protected since their walls can collapse without warning, burying workers beneath tons of soil before they have a chance to react or escape. He noted that while employers have several options for cave-in protection, including sloping the soil at a shallow angle, shoring the sides of the excavation or using a protective trench box, none were in use in this excavation.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the 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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