Companies fined $52,000 in trench collapse that killed 61-year-old plumber.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a Nebraska contractor with five serious violations and $31,000 in fines following the investigation of a trench cave-in March 21 that buried 61-year-old plumber Jimmy Dale Spencer under thousands of pounds of soil.
Spencer was employed by Clau-Chin Construction of Alliance, Nebraska, and was installing sewer lines for a home in an 8-foot-deep trench. A second worker, Seth Daniel Walton, 19, was injured in the collapse. He was taken to a local hospital, treated for minor injuries and released.
OSHA says Clau-Chin failed to conduct inspections of the excavation, adjacent areas and protective systems by a competent person.
According to the citation, the employer did not instruct employees in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions or provide training during their initial assignment. It also failed to conduct at least one visual and one manual test of the soil prior to the start of the work, failed to maintain a spoil pile at least two feet from the excavation edge and failed to provide a protective system or appropriate slope at the site.
OSHA also cited Larry Kessler Construction, the project’s contractor, with three serious violations and $21,000 in fines.
According to the citation, the spoil pile from the trench was placed directly at the edge of the excavation and not the required two feet. Due to the location of the trench, vibration from the nearby roadway and equipment could easily trigger movement of the spoil pile into the trench below. Kessler also failed to conduct adequate inspections of the trench, adjacent areas and protective systems, and failed to provide a protective system for employees of Clau-Chin Construction, exposing them to the hazards of an excavation collapse.
Both companies have 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
“This tragic death is a reminder of just how quickly an unprotected trench can become a death trap as a worker is buried under thousands of pounds of soil,” Jeff Funke, OSHA’s area director in Omaha, told the Scottsbluff Star Herald.
“Soil dynamics are an unpredictable aspect of all trenching and excavations. Soil gives no warning prior to giving away, burying workers in just seconds. Inspection, protective systems and training are the difference between life and death in cases like these.”
A cubic yard of soil can weigh 3,000 pounds, the weight of a small automobile. Trenching and excavation are among the most dangerous construction activities, and cave-ins are often lethal to workers crushed or suffocated by thousands of pounds of soil and rock.
Spencer spent most of his life doing plumbing, appliance repair and maintenance at the Minatare School District. He loved fishing, hunting and camping. According to his obituary, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t repair or fabricate. Spencer was quick-witted and had a joke for anyone and everyone. He is survived by his wife, Cheryl, two daughters and three grandchildren.