Company Drops Appeal in Case Over Fatal 2016 Idaho Trench Collapse

August 15, 2018

A construction company has dropped its appeal of federal workplace safety officials’ determination that it was negligent in a trench collapse in Boise, Idaho, that killed two workers and injured a third.

U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors responded to the scene after the Boise Police Department alerted them that a trench between 9- and 11-feet deep had caved-in and buried three workers employed by Hard Rock Construction, Inc. The collapse killed the crew’s foreman and another worker, and hospitalized the third laborer with serious injuries. The men were doing underground utility work for the Meridian-based contractor when the incident occurred May 3, 2016, on Gary Lane.

Each year, dozens of workers die and hundreds suffer injury when trench walls collapse and bury them in soil and rock – sometimes weighing several thousand pounds. In fact, one cubic yard of soil can be equal to the weight of a small automobile, about 3,000 pounds. Excavation cave-ins are among the most common causes of fatalities in the construction industry.

OSHA inspectors found Hard Rock failed to provide cave-in protection systems or a ladder to enter or exit the trench, did not have a competent person conducting inspections and failed to train its employees on the hazards and dangers in working in trenches. The agency issued three serious citations and one willful citation, and assessed penalties of $77,319 to the company.

“The tragic loss of these men’s lives and serious injuries suffered by their co-worker were preventable – which makes this incident even more tragic,” said David Kearns, area director of OSHA’s Boise office. “Our investigation found Hard Rock Construction made almost no effort to protect its workers, or even to understand the right ways to avoid the common hazards in this line of work. Hiring workers and assuming they know how to protect themselves is a sure path to tragedy.”

Hard Rock employs about 24 employees in excavation, grading and underground utility installation.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that Hard Rock Construction’s hands-off approach to worker safety and rush to finish the job contributed to the collapse, the Idaho Statesman reported Thursday.

Inspectors identified safety issues at the construction site hours before the trench came down.

Hard Rock later dropped its appeal in March for unknown reasons. The company’s lawyer did not respond to a message from the newspaper seeking comment this week.

It’s unknown whether the U.S. attorney’s office will pursue criminal charges. Federal records show prosecutors had considered it in the past.

The family of Bert Smith Jr., one of the employees killed in the collapse, is suing the city of Boise, state agencies, the construction company and French Homes, the company that hired Hard Rock to dig the trenches as part of a residential construction project.

The family’s lawsuit blames government agencies for giving out licenses and permits to the company for the project, and private parties for putting Smith at risk.

The defendants have all responded in court, denying the claims or saying they weren’t filed correctly.

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