Wash. Excavation Firm Fined for Safety Violations

May 7, 2004

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) issued citations this week to Paragon Construction Co. of Pasco for six workplace safety violations at an underground-utility-installation project in the Tri-Cities. The citations carry a combined penalty of $245,700.

Five “willful” violations and one “serious” violation were issued for exposing workers to serious injury or death from cave-in hazards while working in trenches as deep as 30 feet in “Type C” soil, which is very loose or sandy soil with the highest probability of collapse. Reportedly, the company repeatedly failed to use proper shoring, sloping or shielding protections during work last October, November and December.

“This is the most dangerous trench work I’ve ever seen,” said Reuel Paradis, L&I regional administrator for Central Washington. “We’re very fortunate nobody was killed or seriously injured. “

Ten Washington workers have been killed in trenching-related incidents in the past six years.

“Serious” violations are those where there is a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from an existing condition, and “willful” is cited when the department finds an employer intentionally or knowingly violated rules or knew that a violation was occurring and was plainly indifferent to correcting it.

Because of the seriousness of the violations and the company’s pattern of disregard for safety, L&I, for the first time, used its “egregious” policy. In those instances, the department may attach a penalty to each individual instance of a safety violation rather than more typically combining them together as one violation. Egregious violations may be issued for exceptionally flagrant cases involving willful violations.

“Soil weighs between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds per cubic yard. If a cave-in had occurred, the employees working in the trenches would have been killed or severely injured due to suffocation and crushing caused by the massive weight of the soil,” said Michael Silverstein, L&I assistant director for industrial safety and health. “The workers had no protection from cave-ins, and the protective equipment was sitting unused at the worksite.”

The employer has 15 business days to appeal the citation.

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