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Willful Exposure to Trenching Hazards

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, OSHA – 

March 22, 2016 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued citations for one willful and one serious violation for exposing workers to trenching hazards at an excavation in the Pittsburgh area.

Five months after the company was cited  for a serious violation due to a lack of cave-in protection, an OSHA inspector returned to the site to check on the progress. The inspector quickly noticed an employee replacing a sewer pipe in the 9 foot deep, unprotected excavation. To make matters worse, the employee was working in direct view of the supervising foreman. This was the same foreman who was overseeing the excavation during the previous inspection that resulted in a citation for a lack of cave-in protection. Since the foreman was clearly acting with indifference to employee safety, the inspector issued a willful violation*.

“[The company] continues to put its employees in considerable danger despite previous violations for unsafe and potentially lethal excavation work… Without proper protection, trenching and excavating sites can become deathtraps for workers in the blink of an eye” – Christopher Robinson, director of OSHA’s Pittsburgh Area Office

The proposed citations in this case total $41,580 in penalties.

The risk of monetary fines do not always deter unsafe practices, even if previous citations have been issued. Clearly, the previous violation did not change the attitude of the supervising foreman, resulting in continued irresponsible behavior. Unprotected trenches and excavation are unpredictable and potentially deadly. Never enter a trench or excavation without proper safety precautions in place, even if your supervisor or foreman gives you permission. Your individual safety is ultimately your own responsibility, so always be aware of the best practices to mitigate risk.

When visiting sites where trenching and excavation are present, OSHA inspectors follow the National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation guidelines. The linked Directive outlines what OSHA inspectors are looking for during their site visits.

For more information on safe trenching and excavation practices, or to schedule a training on trenching, excavation and shoring, contact The Integrated Group at 425-822-8500 or


*A willful violations is a “violation in which the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement or acted with plain indifference to employee safety”.

A serious violation “exists when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation”.


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