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OSHA says Breese contractor put laborers at risk despite numerous warnings

 The headquarters for the U.S. Department of Labor is shown behind the building's sign.
Ed Brown
Wikimedia Commons
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor based in Washington D.C.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

A Breese, Illinois, contractor has been issued multiple penalties for trench cave-in violations.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Labor, Groundworks Contracting Inc. of Breese was cited for ignoring a city engineer’s instructions to use trench cave-in protection.

A federal workplace safety inspectors found Groundworks Contracting failed to protect workers who were installing storm sewer lines from the risk of trench cave-ins on a least five occasions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 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.

Jason Richter, owner of Groundworks, denies any wrongdoing. The company has appealed the violations with a hearing set for Wednesday, June 14.

“No, these things are not true,” Richter said Monday afternoon. “When the OHSA officer came out there, he said everything looked fine. As far as we knew, everything was okay.”

Richter added he and his company place a premium on the safety of their workers.

“They all get an OSHA handbook and have to sign it before they even start working for us,” he said. “We have safety meetings every week. Safety is a very big thing to us and the safety of our workers is more important than anything. They all need to go home to their families every day.”

According to the OSHA release, the City of Waterloo tipped OSHA to the alleged violations and inspectors visited the site from Nov. 30, 2022 to Jan. 20, 2023.

They found five employees in trenches as deep as 18 feet on five occasions during its investigation at the Silvercreek Crossing residential housing development, the release stated.

In addition, OSHA found Groundworks had no qualified 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.

Inspectors also noted that the company did not provide required head protection or training so employees could recognize cave-in hazards, according to OSHA.

According to the Department of Labor, in 2022, 39 workers suffered fatal injuries in trenching and excavation work,” the Department of Labor release stated.

“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,” explained OSHA Area Director Aaron Priddy in Fairview Heights. “Despite warnings from local authorities, this contractor’s callous lack of concern for their employees’ safety and well-being is hard to imagine.”

According to OHSA standards, trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Before a worker can enter a trench, it must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards, and have a safe means of entering and exiting, according to OSHA.

Garen Vartanian is a reporter and editor with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Garen Vartanian is a reporter and editor with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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