Safety and OSHA News

Over half-million dollars in fines for trench fatality; criminal charges may follow

First Samuel Morgan was partially buried in the collapse of a seven-foot deep trench. Then he was mangled by construction equipment in a botched rescue attempt. Now his employer faces $560,000 in safety fines. 

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development has issued eight willful citations to Hartman Construction & Equipment Inc. as a result of the investigation into Morgan’s death on June 16, 2015 at an Anchorage worksite. Morgan was 23. The $70,000 for each willful citation is the maximum allowed by law.

The violations against Hartman include failure to:

  • provide a safe workplace
  • provide adequate access and egress from the trench
  • protect employees from loose rock and soil
  • properly locate spoil piles
  • use a protective system in the excavation, and
  • properly bench or slope the excavation.

Before the trench collapse, Hartman had identified a section of the trench wall that had sloughed off and marked the area with traffic cones. A protective trench box at the site wasn’t assembled, and there were no ladders for safe trench access.

Morgan was in the trench, laying sewer pipe with a Hartman crew, when an unguarded wall sloughed off and buried him to the waist. David Hartman, a partial owner of the company, and other employees tried to free Morgan from the collapsed trench using two excavators and fatally injured him in the process. The State Medical Examiner ruled Morgan’s injuries resulted from being struck by construction equipment.

“This avoidable tragedy deserves the full attention of every employer in the construction industry,” said Alaska Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas. “Every employer who has ever thought about cutting corners on safety should view this case as a severe warning that failure to provide the necessary and adequate protections for Alaska’s workers will not be tolerated.”

Grey Mitchell, the department’s director of labor standards and safety, told the Alaska Dispatch News that his office was in contact with the state Department of Law’s Criminal Division regarding potential charges in the case.

“We found that the employer – and specifically David Hartman – acted with plain indifference toward the occupational safety and health standards,” Mitchell said. “He really had a lack of will in terms of effort toward complying, and a degree of knowledge in regards to trenching work and the hazards of the site itself, that dictated he should have had some safeguards in place. But he didn’t; he ignored them.”

The company has 15 days from the issue of the citations to decide whether to appeal.

 

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