- The U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA announced on Tuesday that it has cited a Pennsylvania contractor for several excavation-related violations and proposed that it pay a total of $208,560 in fines.
- Agency investigators said that Etna Construction, based in Warminster, Pennsylvania, exposed employees on a jobsite in Philadelphia to excavation dangers by not using the appropriate protective systems, failing to teach employees how to recognize excavation hazards and not providing a safe means of exit from excavations. OSHA also cited the company for not making sure that employees were wearing hardhats and not properly guarding protruding reinforcing steel.
- “Employees can be seriously or fatally injured in a matter of seconds when a trench collapses,” said Theresa Downs, director of OSHA’s Philadelphia Area Office. “Trench-related injuries are preventable when employees are trained properly and the required protections are in place.”
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OSHA focuses on hazardous industries like construction, hoping to intercede where the threat to worker safety is the highest.
The August 2018 inspection, according to OSHA, was prompted by a complaint, as was another Etna inspection pertaining to falls earlier that month. Agency records show that Etna still owes the Labor Department at least $10,365 in fines related to another fall-specific inspection in May 2018.
OSHA has the power of the federal government behind it, but its reach is limited because it doesn’t have enough staff to fill all roles. When counting those states with state plans and their own federal inspectors, OSHA has about 2,100 inspectors responsible for keeping about 130 million people at 8 million establishments safe and healthy at work. That shakes out to one inspector for every 59,000 workers.
With a budget of almost $553 million in 2018, federal OSHA conducted more than 32,000 inspections last year. Compliance officers representing state plans made almost 41,000 inspections in 2018.
It is because of these limitations that the agency focuses on hazardous industries like construction, hoping to intercede where the threat to worker safety is the highest. In 2017, during which the agency conducted a similar number of compliance visits to workplaces as it did in 2018, these planned, programmed visits accounted for more than 14,000 inspections.
OSHA also relies on complaints from workers or others who notice unsafe conditions on the job and on referrals from other public agencies or even media reports. In 2017, OSHA conducted more than 8,200 inspections based on complaints and almost 6,300 from referrals. The Etna inspections resulted from two complaints and one referral.
Once a contractor accumulates multiple OSHA violations, the likelihood of being placed into OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program increases. This program targets high-hazard industries like construction and means extra inspections and other oversight for companies that have demonstrated their unwillingness to comply with OSHA regulations.
In 2017, for example, OSHA placed Great White Construction, based in Jacksonville, Florida, into the program after citing and fining the company multiple times for fall protection and eye hazards. These repeated violations also resulted in two August 2017 fines (here and here) totaling $1,523,710.
Watch How to Protect Workers in Trenches
This educational video offered by the Region VI OSHA Office and Region VI OSHA Education Centers (Mid-South, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), Oklahoma State University and University of Texas at Arlington):