Safety and OSHA News

Owner, manager going to prison for death of worker

A California judge has sentenced the owner and project manager of a construction company to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of an employee. 

Richard Liu, owner of U.S. Sino Investment, and the firm’s project manager, Dan Luo, were sentenced by a Santa Clara County judge for the January 2012 cave-in death of Raul Zapata, 36, in Milpitas, CA.

Zapata was installing a concrete foundation for a retaining wall at a residential construction site. The 12-foot excavation wall collapsed, burying him alive. He died before rescue crews arrived.

When they did arrive, workers still couldn’t attempt to free Zapata’s body because the ground was too unstable. They weren’t able to remove the body until two days later. Heavy rain on prior days made the situation extremely dangerous. Trying to remove the body could have resulted in another trench collapse, endangering the rescue workers.

The death came three days after a city of Milpitas building inspector issued a stop-work notice to Luo for failure to provide shoring on the excavation. Work was supposed to stop until the company could show it had shored the trench.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation found:

  • the excavation wall had not been shored
  • neither Zapata nor other employees wore any head protection
  • U.S. Sino didn’t have a competent person for excavation work on the jobsite, and
  • the company didn’t have workers’ comp insurance when Zapata was killed.

Cal/OSHA issued six citations, five serious, for a total of $168,175 in fines.

California officials are sending a message regarding cases like this one: Expect criminal prosecution.

“When our investigations uncover negligent behavior by employers, we exercise our full jurisdiction to protect workers – including referrals to district attorneys for prosecution,” said Christine Baker, Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations.

“When preventable deaths occur on the job, employers must be held accountable,” said Cal/OSHA chief Juliann Sum.

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