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Worker fatally injured after Austin contractor ordered them to return to collapsed trench, OSHA says

The two workers who were sent to finish the job had escaped the initial collapse hours earlier. The trench collapsed again when they returned, fatally injuring one.
Credit: OSHA

AUSTIN, Texas — Two workers employed by an Austin contractor who had escaped a partial trench collapse in October 2021 just hours earlier were told to return to the trench, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The two workers had just escaped the partial collapse of a 13-foot-deep trench near Creedmoor where they were installing a residential wastewater line on Oct. 23, 2021. They were instructed to return and finish the job, when the trench collapsed again, fatally injuring one worker and partially burying the other, per the report.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) opened an inspection on Oct. 25, 2021, after receiving a late hospitalization notice from D Guerra Construction LLC. By law, employers must report workplace hospitalization within 24 hours. 

RELATED: 3 people who fell into trench rescued by first responders, EMS says

An OSHA area director concluded that the worker's death was preventable. 

“Despite a partial trench collapse earlier in the day, D Guerra Construction LLC recklessly sent employees back into the excavation without protective measures to prevent another cave-in,” said OSHA Area Director Casey Perkins in Austin. “The loss of this worker’s life was preventable and the employer must be held responsible for ignoring excavation safety rules.”

OSHA's investigation cited the company for willful violations including: 

  • Failing to have a trench protective system in place
  • Exposing workers to cave-in hazards 
  • Failing to inspect the excavation 
  • Exposing workers to the dangers of being struck by material and equipment 

Investigators also issued citations for failing to train employees working in and around an excavation, exposing workers to struck-by hazards and failing to implement protective measures when water was present in the trench, exposing employees to cave-in hazards. 

The company was also cited for failing to report the hospitalization to OSHA within 24 hours. The proposed penalties amount to more than $243,000.

According to OSHA, the company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

From 2011 to 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 166 workers died in trench collapses. In 2019, OSHA reported that at least 24 workers died while working on trenching and excavation projects, all of which were preventable if required safety measures had been in place.

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