OSHA: Company Failed to Provide Safety Training
After two employees of a drain service company died in the collapse of a trench, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found that the company failed to provide safeguards and safety training.
The employees died in 2016 while they were working in a 12-foot-deep trench to install water and sewer lines to a residence. The trench collapsed, breaking the adjacent fire hydrant supply line, which immediately filled the trench with water.
OSHA found that the company failed to install a support system for the trench and didn’t provide the employees with a ladder and protective gear. The company also failed to train the workers in how to identify and address hazards associated with trenching and excavation work.
Because OSHA had cited the company for similar hazards in 2007 and 2012, some of the company’s violations were described as “willful” violations of workplace safety standards, the most serious category of violation. Willful safety violations are subject to OSHA’s highest penalties. OSHA proposed penalties of $1.47 million for the 18 violations it found.
Specifically, OSHA found that the company failed “to instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions associated with trenches.”
As OSHA says about safety training in general:
Education and training are important tools for informing workers and managers about workplace hazards and controls so they can work more safely and be more productive. Another role of education and training, however, is to provide workers and managers with a greater understanding of the safety and health program itself, so that they can contribute to its development and implementation.
We’ve noted before that OSHA wants employees to feel free to report workplace injuries. OSHA’s guidance about training programs indicates that it expects employers to accept employees’ feedback about safety training, too. Digging trenches may seem like an especially dangerous job, but many jobs and workplaces that seem safe can also have hidden hazards.
In this case, as Evan Allen of the Boston Globe reported, after the 2012 violations the company’s owner agreed to provide safety training so that the employees would understand the hazards to which they were exposed. But the company apparently never conducted that training. After the collapse of the trench in 2016, the company submitted falsified sign-in sheets for safety training on excavation and trenching. Several of the people whose names appeared on the documents told officials that they had not signed them.
In addition to OSHA’s fines, the company’s owner was also criminally charged with manslaughter, misleading an investigator, and concealing records.
Excavation work can be dangerous, but this employer increased the danger by failing to provide safety equipment and by failing to make sure that employees were properly trained. As the Suffolk County (Massachusetts) District Attorney’s office stated, the owner was “well aware of the extreme danger posed by a deep trench without cave-in protection” because he’d already been warned of the dangers and had promised to train his employees.
Employees who receive safety training are more likely to know what kind of equipment and precautions their jobs require; they might also be encouraged to report any concerns they feel about their working conditions to supervisors or to OSHA itself. In this case, the company’s owner failed to provide his employees with either the safety training or the equipment that they needed.
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