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Construction firms cited after plumber's death in trench collapse


Two Nebraska construction companies have been cited and are facing a combined $52,000 in proposed penalties from federal workplace safety regulators after a 61-year-old plumber died in a trench collapse.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Alliance, Nebraska-based employer Clau Chin Construction L.L.C. and Scottsbluff, Nebraska-based project contractor Larry Kessler Construction L.L.C. with three serious violations following their investigation into the Marchincident, according to an agency press release issued on Monday.

OSHA determined the companies failed to provide trench cave-in protection for the workers as they installed sewer lines at a residential home project in Alliance, which buried the worker after the 8-foot deep trench collapsed, according to the agency. Agency inspectors also said the companies did not have a competent person inspect the trench before allowing workers to enter and permitted soil piles within 2 feet of the excavation site. OSHA’s trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and that soil and other materials are kept at least 2 feet from the edge of trench.

A cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds — the weight of a small automobile — and cave-ins are often lethal to workers crushed or suffocated by thousands of pounds of soil and rock, according to the agency.

“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, Nebraska, said in a statement. “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.”

Company spokespersons could not be immediately reached for comment.

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