OSHA violations at Waterloo subdivision project

A Breese contractor who ignored a Waterloo city official’s repeated verbal and written instructions to use trench cave-in protection faces penalties after federal workplace safety inspectors found the employer failed to protect workers installing storm sewer lines from potentially deadly trench cave-ins on at least five occasions.

Acting on a City of Waterloo referral, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found five employees of Groundworks Contracting Inc. in trenches as deep as 18 feet on five occasions during its investigation from Nov. 30, 2022 to Jan. 20, 2023 at the Silvercreek Crossing residential housing development.

Inspectors determined the employer put workers at risk by failing to provide required cave-in protection and head protection and by not training employees to recognize cave-in hazards, an OSHA news release stated.

In addition, OSHA found Groundworks had no competent person on site to inspect trenches before workers entered and, on one occasion, failed to protect a laborer as they were hoisted in an excavator’s bucket to work over a 15-foot-deep trench.

In addition to serving as Waterloo’s zoning administrator, Nathan Krebel is also the subdivision administrator who oversees improvement work for new subdivisions.

“The City of Waterloo inspects subdivision development to assure infrastructure improvements are installed per code and to contact the correct authorities when there are obvious worker safety issues,” Krebel said when asked for comment on the matter.

OSHA said trench collapses are among the construction industry’s most deadly hazards. In 2022, 39 workers suffered fatal injuries in trenching and excavation work.

“With help from a concerned City of Waterloo engineer, our inspectors were able to hold Groundworks Contracting Inc. accountable for its failure to protect employees from the threat of trench collapse, one of the construction industry’s most lethal hazards,” OSHA Area Director Aaron Priddy said. “Despite warnings from local authorities, this contractor’s callous lack of concern for their employees’ safety and well-being is hard to imagine.”

Following its investigation, OSHA cited Groundworks Contracting for one willful violation, four serious violations, and one other-than-serious violation of federal trenching and excavation standards, and proposed penalties of $77,147.

Per OSHA, trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than five feet, and soil and other materials kept at least two feet from the edge of a trench.

Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.

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