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Texas contractors fined for trench cave-in safety hazards

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Two Texas contractors are facing a total of $65,900 in proposed fines after federal regulators found their employees were exposed to cave-in hazards.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiated an inspection in June in Conroe, Texas, after receiving a report of employees working in an unprotected trench, OSHA said Tuesday in a statement.

Keller, Texas-based North Texas Contracting Inc. was cited Nov. 19 for three serious violations for failing to protect workers from the collapse of undermined pavement, failing to place excavated material 2 feet or more from the edge of the trench and using a defective lifting hook, which exposed workers to struck-by hazards, according to OSHA. The employer was also cited for one repeat violation for failing to protect workers from a trench collapse. The agency proposed $59,100 in total penalties against North Texas.

Willis, Texas-based K&S Contractors, a subcontractor on the project, exposed three workers to cave-in hazards in the same trench and was cited for three serious violations for failing to protect workers from a trench cave-in, exposing workers to water accumulation in a trench and failing to protect workers from falling debris with protective helmets, according to the release. The agency proposed $6,800 in fines against the company.

“Any time a worker is exposed to a trenching hazard, that worker's life is in serious and immediate jeopardy,” Steve Devine, OSHA's acting area director in the Houston North office, said in a statement. “North Texas Contracting failed to comply with common-sense safety practices, and such disregard will not be tolerated. It is the employer's responsibility to find and fix hazards in the workplace.”

K&S employee Ken Hosang said North Texas subcontracted the firm for some concrete work at the site. “That was their responsibility on the excavation,” he said.

Mr. Hosang said that from his understanding, OSHA had previously warned North Texas about the cave-in dangers — a warning he said was not passed along to the subcontractor prior to signing on to the job.

“They never fixed the issue from the first time the inspector was there, and we were never informed of the issue,” he said. “That's why I say that they kind of left me hanging.”

“My general contractor was nowhere to be found” when OSHA inspected the site again, Mr. Hosang said, adding that this was the first time since he and his wife started the business in 2000 that he has been in this type of situation with a general contractor and that most of the general contractors he worked with have helped support the subcontractor and followed strict safety guidelines.

The temporary employees hired to help K&S with the job were provided with protective head equipment but did not have them on at the time the inspector visited the site, he said.

Mr. Hosang will meet with local OSHA officials next week and “tell them my side of the story.” He said he is hoping for a reduced or withdrawn citation and/or fine. “I'm hoping because I don't really feel like it's my fault because I was a subcontractor,” he said.

A North Texas employee declined to comment.