Seven months ago, at a jobsite in West Seattle, 36-year-old Harold Felton became the first person killed in a trenching-related incident in our state in seven years. Today, the state Department of Labor and Industries announced it has cited the contractor for whom he was working, and is seeking $51,500 in fines. Here’s the announcement:
A Seattle contractor is facing more than $50,000 in fines for safety violations that led to the death of a construction worker last January. Harold Felton was killed when the dirt walls of the trench he was working in collapsed and buried him. Rescuers were unable to dig him out in time to save his life.
The state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited Alki Construction LLC for one willful violation, five serious and one general in connection with the incident last January. The fines total $51,500.
The company had dug trenches next to a Seattle home to replace a sewer line. The trench where the worker died was seven-feet deep and just under two-feet wide. There was no system in place to prevent all sides from caving in.
Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction jobs. Cave-ins on these jobs kill two dozen or more workers each year in the U.S. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car and dirt walls can collapse suddenly without any warning, burying the victims instantly.
Cave-ins are far from rare. On May 3 in Boise, Idaho, two workers were killed in a trench collapse while working on a sewer project. On May 5 in Portland, Ore., a worker was killed while installing a sewer line in an 11-foot trench. There have been similar incidents in other states this summer.
Employers must ensure that adequate protections are in place to prevent cave-ins, and workers should never enter an unprotected trench, even for a quick task.
Alki Construction was cited for a “willful” violation with a penalty of $35,000 for not ensuring that trenches and excavations four-feet deep or more had a protective system in place to prevent the dirt sides from caving in.
The company was also cited for five serious violations:
*Alki Construction did not have a formal accident prevention program tailored to the needs of the operation and the type of hazards involved in trenching and excavation work ($3,500).
*There was no ladder, ramp or other safe means of exiting the excavated trench ($3,500).
*Sidewalks and structures that were undermined were not supported to protect employees from possible collapse ($3,000).
*Excavated dirt and other materials were placed less than two feet from the edge of the unprotected trench, where they could fall into the trench where employees were working ($3,000).
*There were no daily inspections of the excavations to monitor changing soil conditions ($3,500).
One general violation was cited for not ensuring walk-around safety inspections were documented.
A willful violation is one where L&I finds evidence of plain indifference or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation is one where there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.
As a result of the violations, Alki Construction LLC has been identified as a severe violator and is subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist.
The employer has 15 working days to appeal. Penalty money paid in connection with a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.
Visit L&I’s Trenching & Excavation topic page to learn more about trenching safety.
As reported here on January 26th, a major rescue response was called to the scene in the 3000 block of 36th SW before 11 am that day. By 11:30, though, it had shifted from a rescue attempt to a recovery operation. As we reported at the time, the contractor had no previous record of violations.
P.S. Following up with L&I, we’ve learned that although the news release about the citation was published (and is dated) today, the department actually issued the citation in July and delivered it August 20th, so the deadline for an appeal is September 12th.