Colorado Contractors Face 6-Figure Penalties after Trench Deaths

Two excavation contractors in Colorado have been hit with six-figure penalties in two separate investigations by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration for not protecting workers from trench collapse.

Workers have died on both of the contractors’ worksites – a 17-year-old worker and a 23-year-old, respectively – who were in trenches that collapsed.

Repeat violations after 17-year-old dies

On August 13, 2022, a 17-year-old worker was in the bottom of a trench in Greeley, Colorado, while a company foreman was also inside the trench digging into the wall using a drill with a spade shovel attachment, according to OSHA online records. The foreman was searching for a utility line when a slab of asphalt lodged in the wall came loose, caving in the trench on both employees. The 17-year-old was struck on the head by the asphalt slab and died. The foreman was struck on the shoulder and was treated at a hospital and released.  

GoldStar Excavation and Sewer of Keenesburg was cited with failure to provide a protective system to prevent cave-in and was issued a penalty of $15,625.

Then on March 8, 2023, OSHA opened another investigation and found the same company violating the same rule on a site in Fort Collins. An employee was installing sewer lines in an 8.5-foot-deep trench on November 9, 2022, with no cave-in protection. “The employer routinely assigns workers to work inside trenches that are not protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system,” the citation issued May 8, 2023, reads.

The same foreman injured in the previous fatal incident just three months earlier was also in the trench, according to OSHA. A photograph shows the trench was in the middle of a road, and a worker was holding a vibrating power tool, OSHA’s citation says.

Other violations from the November 9 incident include failure to provide an exit ladder for workers in the trench, no daily inspections of the trench before workers entered and failure to train workers on trenching hazards.

GoldStar also did not post at its jobsite March 8, 2023, required information about its injury rate for employees, and it did not provide its injury records within four hours to OSHA.

GoldStar was issued total proposed penalties of $206,698 by OSHA on May 8 and was also placed in the agency’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

OSHA said GoldStar could have prevented the teenage worker’s death had it followed federal safety regulations, and then three months later, it was ignoring the same regulations.

“With a teenager’s family and friends still grieving, the company again allowed its workers to enter an unprotected trench,” said OSHA Area Director Amanda Kupper in Denver. “GoldStar must comply with required federal safety standards designed to prevent another tragedy.”  

23-year-old dies in unprotected trench

On December 27, 2022, a 23-year-old worker and another employee of Coronado Excavation of Sewer and Water Repairs LLC of Brighton were in a 43-foot-long trench that was 7.5 to 8 feet deep and 26 inches wide in Aurora. They were installing residential utility pipes when part of the trench near a sidewalk caved in and killed Marcos Guerrero-Baddillo, who died of asphyxiation, according to OSHA and news reports. No cave-in protection was present at the section. One section of the trench near a house had only one hydraulic vertical shore in place, instead of a minimum of two as required by the manufacturer.

Along with inadequate cave-in protection, Coronado Excavation was cited for placing soil piles within 2 feet of the trench edge, failure to provide the manufacturer’s tabulated data for the shoring system, failure to inspect the trench before workers entered and failure to train employees on trenching hazards.

OSHA issued $112,508 in proposed penalties to Coronado on May 12.

“Coronado Excavation of Sewer and Water Repair’s disregard of well-known safety protections for excavation has left a young man’s family, friends and co-workers to grieve his needless suffering and loss of life, which the employer could have prevented by following the law,” said OSHA Area Director Chad Vivian in Englewood, Colorado.

Both Coronado and GoldStar have 15 days to appeal OSHA’s citations.