CORRECTED: US Department of Labor finds Breckenridge contractor willfully exposed workers to trench hazards after fatal cave-in
BRECKENRIDGE, CO – One worker suffered fatal injuries and two co-workers barely escaped similar fates when they were rescued from a trench that collapsed as they installed sewer pipes in a Breckenridge neighborhood on Nov. 16, 2021.
Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined the other trenches on this project had caved in on previous occasions, and the employer, A4S LLC of Vail – operating as A4S Construction – failed to install trench protection systems, exposing workers to serious hazards on the day of the fatal incident and afterward.
OSHA learned that, in addition to the worker who suffered fatal injuries, one worker rescued himself while bystanders rescued a second worker. OSHA later determined that trench collapses at the site had occurred several times in the months prior.
“A4S Construction’s failure to comply with excavation requirements cost a worker his life,” said OSHA Area Director Amanda Kupper in Denver. “Our investigation found that this employer willfully sent workers into unprotected trenches at a site with a history of cave-ins, and continued to expose workers to the same conditions even after the fatality.”
The agency issued three willful citations to A4S LLC for not ensuring the excavation was inspected by a competent person, failing to perform an inspection of the excavation, and not having a trench protective system in place. Investigators also issued an additional serious citation for not having a safe means of egress within 25 lateral feet of employees working in a trench.
OSHA has proposed penalties of $449,583 and placed A4S Construction in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
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 with all of them preventable had 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 prior to 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 to reduce the number of worker injuries and fatalities related to trench cave-ins.
Editor’s Note: This news release has been corrected to state that OSHA determined the other trenches on this project had caved in not the same trench and that A4S Construction failed, not refused, to install trench protection systems.