The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Feds Go After Two Companies Over Dead Ditch Workers

by Brendan Coyne

Oct. 7, 2005 – Stating that his agency is "aggressively" enforcing standards to prevent workers from dying in trenches, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) administrator John Miles announced Tuesday that the federal workplace watchdog was levying a $108,500 fine against a Texas contractor for "willful" violations that resulted in the death of a ditch worker.

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Following that announcement, a US Attorney’s office decided Wednesday to bring criminal charges against a Pennsylvania excavation company for "egregiously willful" worksite violations in the 2004 crushing death of a worker installing storm drains in Washington County, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

In total, OSHA issued nine separate citations to Utility Contractors of America, a Lubbock, Texas firm: two willful safety violations and seven others categorized as "serious," a step below the "willful" designation. The agency charges that UCA did nothing to protect workers from potential trench collapses and failed to issue proper instructions to work within the safe parts of a trench.

On April 5, walls of a UCA trench collapsed on workers, crushing one worker to death and severely injuring another, OSHA noted in announcing the fine.

The preliminary OSHA decision gives the company fifteen days to officially contest the decision or comply with federal workplace safety rules before the fines go into effect, the agency said.

Also Tuesday, the Pittsburgh US Attorney’s office filed misdemeanor charges against a Pennsylvania excavation firm and a company official over a number of workplace safety violation, according to the Tribune-Review. In June 2004, an employee of Wagoner Excavation Co. was killed by a collapsing trench wall as he worked on a North Fayette, Pennsylvania drainage ditch, the Tribune-Review reported last year.

A subsequent OSHA investigation found that the company and one officer, Glen Wagoner, neglected to provide employees with a safe workspace. The investigation led to a $382,875 fine against the company – the largest such penalty levied in Pennsylvania history, according to the Tribune-Review.

The criminal charges, reportedly made public Wednesday, could net Wagner six months in jail and may cost the company as much $250,000 in new penalties.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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