Employer Fined $424K following Trench Collapse, Injuring Worker

Fatal Rock-Striking Accident

HOUSTON, TX – One minute he was working in the 8-foot trench below ground. The next, he was being buried in it. His co-workers came to his rescue, digging him out with their bare hands. Moments after they pulled the injured man to safety, the unprotected trench collapsed again. His injuries were serious and led to his hospitalization.

The man’s Houston-area employer, Hassell Construction Co. Inc. knew the Richmond, Texas excavation site was dangerous, but failed to protect its workers.

Today, OSHA cited Hassell Construction for 16 safety violations, including six egregious, willful violations for failing to protect workers inside an excavation from a cave-in. The company faces penalties totaling $423,900.

In addition to the willful violations, Hassell was cited for nine serious violations, including failing to remove debris from the edge of the excavation. The company also did not provide a safe means to get in and out of the excavation for workers or conduct atmospheric testing inside excavations after a sewer leak.

OSHA has placed the company in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program. The program concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference towards creating a safe and healthy workplace by committing willful or repeated violations, and/or failing to abate known hazards. It also mandates follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.

Hassell Construction employs about 150 employees to help construct water and sewer lines in the Houston area. Its workers compensation insurance carrier is Liberty Mutual. The employer has 15 business days from receipt of its citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s Houston South area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.