Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Trench Collapses and Murder: Anyone Listening Out There?

There's something very, very wrong here.

I noted that OSHA had fined a Texas construction company the other day, Site Concrete, $117,500 for their "alleged failure to protect employees from cave-in and other safety hazards." The citations included one alleged willful and two alleged repeat violations. The OSHA press release stated that at the time of the inspection, four workers were installing a new valve on the water main inside a seven-foot deep trench. OSHA standard require shoring or sloping of any trench more than 5 feet deep.

OK, not bad, I thought. This is clearly a bad actor:
"Since 1998, this employer has been inspected by OSHA 16 times, resulting in $231,510 in fines and penalties. Exposing employees to unsafe working conditions is unacceptable," said Kathryn Delaney, OSHA area director in Dallas. "Employers must follow safety and health standards to prevent injuries and fatalities, and are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees."
But then, something fluttered way deep inside this aging brain of mine...Site Concrete, where have I heard that name before?

Oh, yeah.

These guys hadn't just been inspected and fined a number of times over the past seven years, they killed a worker just over a year ago in a 15-foot deep trench, a fact that seems to have been left out of the OSHA press release. For that little infraction, the company received a $147,000 penalty (including a willful and repeat citation), which is being appealed at the moment.

I wrote a very angry piece after that last fatality, which I won't repeat here. It's full of anger at OSHA for not having thrown these guys in jail or even bringing a willful citation in the ten previous inspections where trenching violations were found, anger at Site Concrete's attorney who didn't think they had done anything wrong, and anger at the state of Texas for continuing to allow this criminal corporation to receive government contracts. Go read it yourself.

But I'm mostly pissed off right now because just last night I printed a heart-breaking article by the step-daughter of Mike Morrison, a man killed in a preventable trench collapse and I can't help but think that if OSHA had started throwing these assholes in jail everytime they kill someone in a trench, Mike Morrison and many others would be alive today.

Excuse the profanity, but is there any good reason that the owners of Site Concrete aren't in jail tonight? Is there any good reason that any trench collapse should be considered manslaughter or homicide or murder? Can we just see a little bit of the anger over this situation that we're seeing in West Virginia? And maybe a Congressional hearing or two?

Hello? Anyone listening?