Safety and OSHA News

Trench collapse buries worker; $168K fine for his death

A California construction company will pay a hefty Cal/OSHA fine and still faces possible criminal charges in connection with the death of a worker in an excavation collapse.

Cal/OSHA issued 14 citations, two of them willful, totaling $168,175 to US-Sino Investments of Fremont. The citations result from the investigation into the death of Raul Zapata, a carpenter who was buried alive under a 12-foot excavation wall at a Milpitas, CA, residential construction site on Jan. 28, 2012.

Following several days of rain, Zapata had been working at the base of the excavation wall when it collapsed on him.

The situation was so dangerous that rescuers couldn’t remove his body until two days later. Rescuers would have risked their own lives had they attempted to remove the body earlier.

The excavation wall that gave way had no soil support system installed as required by Cal/OSHA’s trenching and excavation regulations. US-Sino also didn’t have a required permit for trench and excavation work exceeding five feet in depth into which workers might be lowered.

Three days before the incident, the City of Milpitas issued a stop-work order due to unstable ground. Violating the stop-work order can lead to a $1,000 fine. However, US-Sino continued work and knowingly put workers at risk, according to Cal/OSHA.

“We think this case is particularly appropriate for criminal referral based on the egregious facts leading to the worker’s death,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess.

Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations is conducting a criminal inquiry, although no charges have been filed yet.

California’s Contractors State License Board suspended the general building contractor license of US-Sino and its owner, Richard Liu, after determining the company failed to provide workers’ compensation insurance to its employees as required by law.

US Sino was also cited by Cal/OSHA for not having an injury and illness prevention plan or heat illness prevention plan as required by California law.


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