OSHA Cites Alabama Plumbing Contractor for Ignoring Trench Safety Standards

Stephens Plumbing faces $43,800 in penalties for one willful and four serious safety violations.

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Stephens Plumbing of Birmingham, Alabama, faces $43,800 in penalties for one willful and four serious safety violations after an inspector for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) saw workers in a trench without protection.

A willful citation was issued April 21 for allowing employees on January 13 to work in an excavation up to 10 feet deep without cave-in protection. The agency requires all trenches and excavation sites 5 feet or deeper be protected against sidewall collapses. Protection may be provided through shoring or trench walls, sloping of the soil at an acceptable angle or by using a protective trench box.

Serious citations were given for not providing workers with information and training to recognize and avoid cave-in hazards, not providing a safe means to enter and exit the excavation, failing to ensure soil removed from the trench was not placed directly on the edge of the opening, and allowing employees to work in an excavation with water accumulated in the bottom.

“Stephens Plumbing knew the excavation was unsafe, but they put workers in the trench anyway, because management said ‘the job needed to get done,'” says Joseph Roesler, OSHA’s area director in Mobile. “Luckily, a compliance officer was there to stop the work before a collapse occurred. It only takes seconds for trench to collapse and bury an employee under thousands of pounds of earth, often resulting in serious injury or death.”

Stephens Plumbing, a commercial and residential plumbing contracting company, has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.


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