Company Owner Convicted of Manslaughter in Trench Collapse Death of Workers

Source: 123RF

Three years after two workers died from drowning after a trench collapsed, a Massachusetts court has convicted the owner of a drain pipe company of manslaughter.

According to OH&S, on Oct. 21, 2016, workers Kelvin “Chuck” Mattocks, 53, and Robert Higgins, 47, were working on a South End trench project when the underground materials supporting a hydrant collapsed.

The materials in the hole were allegedly unshored, and when materials collapsed, the fire hydrant collapsed into the hole and the men were buried beneath flooding water within seconds.

The company’s owner was recently found guilty of two counts of manslaughter and one of witness intimidation by Suffolk Superior Court Judge, Mitchell Kaplan.

Kevin Otto, 45, and his company, Atlantic Drain Service, reportedly broke a number of rules and regulations that ultimately caused the workers their lives.

According to the DA’s office, the accused “knowingly and willfully” placed workers “in extreme danger by failing to utilize cave-in protection, and that Otto lied and produced false documentation to investigators.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 271 workers died in such trench collapses across the U.S. between 2000 and 2006.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), trenching and excavation-related hazards caused an average of 54 deaths every year between 1992 and 2000.

OSHA Directive CPL 02-00-161, (October 1, 2018) describes policies and procedures for continued implementation of an OSHA National Emphasis Program (NEP) to identify and to reduce hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injuries and fatalities during trenching and excavation.

Trench collapses, or cave-ins, pose the greatest risk to workers’ lives.

According to OSHA, to prevent cave-ins:

  • SLOPE or bench trench walls;
  • SHORE trench walls with supports; or
  • SHIELD trench walls with trench boxes.

Employers should also ensure there is a safe way to enter and exit the trench.

  • Keep materials away from the edge of the trench;
  • Look for standing water or atmospheric hazards; and
  • Never enter a trench unless it has been properly inspected.