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Cemetery group faces fine after gravedigger partially buried

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A Queens, New York, cemetery operator is facing $123,200 in proposed penalties after a gravedigger was partially buried when the walls of the grave he was working in collapsed and buried him up to his waist.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Queens-based St. John Cemetery Corp., which owns and operates five cemeteries throughout the greater New York City area, in early November after the May incident at the nonprofit Farmingdale, New York, cemetery, according to a press release issued Tuesday.

An agency inspection found that the cemetery's excavation and its support systems lacked adequate protection against cave-ins and the excavation had not been inspected to identify such deficiencies, according to OSHA. Other hazards included damaged equipment and the placement of excavated soil on the edge of the unprotected trench — conditions that exposed employees to the hazards of cave-in, engulfment and struck-by injuries, according to the agency. OSHA cited St. John for two willful and three serious violations of workplace safety standards.

“This worker literally came close to an early grave because the cemetery failed to provide proper excavation protections,” Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA's Long island, New York area director, said in a statement. “This cave-in could have been prevented if proper and legally required trenching safety procedures had been followed by the employer. It is imperative that St. John Cemetery Corp. ensure that workers at all its cemeteries are protected against cave-in hazards and ensure that an incident such as this does not happen again in the future.”

An employee who answered the phone declined to comment.