US Department of Labor workplace fatality investigation finds contractor sent two workers back into Austin trench after partial collapse
AUSTIN, TX – After escaping from a partial trench collapse hours earlier, two workers employed by an Austin contractor to install a residential wastewater line were not as fortunate later on Oct. 23, 2021.
Both were told to return to the unprotected 13-foot-deep trench to finish the job, and soon after, the trench collapsed again. This time, the collapse buried one worker causing fatal injuries and partially buried the second, who suffered serious injuries.
After receiving a late hospitalization notification from D Guerra Construction LLC, investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an inspection on Oct. 25, 2021. By law, employers must report workplace hospitalizations within 24 hours.
Following its investigation, OSHA cited the company for willful violations for:
- Failing to have a trench protective system in place.
- Exposing workers to cave-in hazards.
- Failing to inspect the excavation.
- Exposing workers to the dangers of being struck by material and equipment.
“Despite a partial trench collapse earlier in the day, D Guerra Construction LLC recklessly sent employees back into the excavation without protective measures to prevent another cave-in,” said OSHA Area Director Casey Perkins in Austin. “The loss of this worker’s life was preventable and the employer must be held responsible for ignoring excavation safety rules.”
Investigators also issued citations for serious violations for failing to train employees working in and around an excavation, exposing workers to struck-by hazards and failing to implement protective measures when water was present in the trench, exposing employees to cave-in hazards.
OSHA also cited the company for failing to report the hospitalization of an employee to OSHA within 24 hours, as required. Proposed penalties total $243,406.
The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
From 2011-2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 166 workers died in trench collapses. In 2019, OSHA reports at least 24 workers died while working on trenching and excavation projects, all of them preventable had the required safety measures been taken.
OSHA has a National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting before allowing a worker to enter.
The 2022 “Trench Safety Stand-Down” week, June 20-24, is a collaboration with the National Utility Contractors Association and OSHA to educate employers and workers and reduce the number of worker injuries and fatalities related to trench cave-ins.
OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.