OSHA Penalizes Illinois Contractor in Trench Collapse Death

An Illinois plumbing contractor has been cited more than $35,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration following the death of a 27-year-old employee in a trench collapse.

On Dec. 12, 2022, Nikodem Zaremba and another employee of Rooter Solutions Inc. of Burr Ridge, Ill., were working in a trench excavation during a residential sewer line project in the front yard of a home in Buffalo Grove, Ill.

Zaremba was fatally crushed when the collapse occurred around 5 p.m. that evening. 

It reportedly took rescuers more than an hour to pull him out of the dirt. Upon being removed, he was initially unresponsive and taken to Northwest Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. 

Related Content: Trench-Collapse Survivor Tells His Story to Help Others

OSHA’s investigation led the agency to issue a citation to Rooter Solutions Inc. for one willful violation and one serious violation with penalties of $35,940.

A willful violation occurs when an employer knowingly fails to comply with a legal requirement or acts with indifference to employee safety, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website. A serious violation occurs when the hazard would most likely cause death or serious harm, except if the employer did not or could not have known about the violation.

According to the federal inspectors, the company had failed to install cave-in protection that would have protected workers in the trench and did not ensure the use of required head protection.

“Trench collapses are one of the construction industry’s most deadly hazards. Soil can shift suddenly and bury a person under thousands of pounds of dirt and rocks,” explained OSHA Chicago North Area Director Sukhvir Kaur in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Based on the violations, inspectors found Zaremba’s death was preventable.

According to OSHA inspectors, the trench was about 13 feet long, 9 feet wide and 8 feet deep. Protective systems are required for trenches that are deeper than 5 feet.

Zaremba and another employee were working on a water line damaged during the excavation operations. 

The serious citation says that employees were exposed to head injury while working in a trench without protective helmets. For that violation, Rooter Solutions was issued a $4,688 penalty.

In addition, according to OSHA, Rooter Solutions had not provided any cave-in protection, which was a willful-serious violation with a $31,252 penalty.

Per the investigation, no protection from a cave-in such as shoring, sloping, or other protective means while working in a trench of that depth was utilized.

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, per regulations, 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 before allowing a worker to enter. 

When the collapse occurred on Dec. 12, Zaremba was crushed by the soil and the other employee escaped unharmed.

Area media reports indicated that Rooter Solutions Inc., which offers plumbing-related services in DuPage County, Ill., and the surrounding area, had only just been established in August 2022.

According to OSHA records, Zaremba’s death was one of 39 caused by trench collapses in 2022, reportedly the deadliest year in trench deaths in 18 years.

Analysis of data from OSHA and the U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics from 2011 to 2018 indicates that the average number of deaths per year due to trench collapses is about 21.