Contractor Faces $170K in Trench Fines, Named “Severe Violator”

Inspectors on a jobsite in Kent, Washington, last March reported that workers were in an 11-foot-deep trench on a storm drain project with no cave-in protection or safe way to get out of the trench.

The owner of the Osprey Group LLC of Kirkland said a trench box and ladders would be placed in the trench, but when inspectors returned the next day, workers still weren’t protected, according to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries.

On top of that, the company was not registered as a construction contractor in the state, L&I said. “Instead, another contractor who is a friend of Osprey’s owner allowed the project permits to be pulled in his company’s name and registration number on behalf of the Osprey Group.”

Osprey Group was hit with proposed safety penalties of $170,000, which it is contesting.

L&I issued six willful safety violations, which are the most serious and are issued when an employer knew the safety requirements but ignored them.

“The owner admitted he knows the requirements,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “He has 20 years of experience in trenching and excavating. This shows blatant disregard for worker safety.”

The six willful violations issued by L&I are as follows:

  • Lack of cave-in protection, $35,000 fine
  • No safe way to exit the trench, $35,000
  • No inspections of the trench by a “competent person” before workers entered, $35,000
  • Exposing workers to falling loads, $30,000
  • Employees not wearing hard hats, $20,000
  • No formal accident program, $15,000

L&I says the Osprey Group is now considered a “severe violator,” which means it is subject to greater scrutiny by the agency.

As for not being registered as a contractor, L&I says its Contractor Compliance team issued citations and fines to Osprey and to the contractor that allowed Osprey’s permits to be registered with its name and registration number.

L&I says it has been cracking down on trench safety enforcement in the wake of last year’s 39 trench deaths, the most in 18 years. The agency says it has conducted more than 90 inspections of trenching and excavation sites since joining a national enforcement program in December. It says it has cited more than 40 businesses for health and safety violations.

Fines paid from citations go into the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund for workers and families of those who have died on the job.

“Our compliance safety and health officers are initiating inspections when they see an open trench four feet deep or more, so we check the trenches we come across for safety,” said Blackwood. “We hope this increased scrutiny will save lives.”

OSHA stock graphic with tips on protecting workers in trenchesOSHA