Trench collapse kills worker hours after Texas employees ordered back in, feds say

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Hours after two workers escaped from a partial trench collapse in Texas, authorities say their employer ordered them back into that same trench “to finish the job.”

They went back into the “unprotected 13-foot-deep trench” on Oct. 23 to continue installing a residential wastewater line, but they “were not as fortunate later on,” according to officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Shortly after they reentered the trench, it collapsed for a second time, according to an April 21 news release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

One worker was buried and died, and the second worker “suffered serious injuries” after being partially buried, officials said.

“Despite a partial trench collapse earlier in the day, D Guerra Construction LLC recklessly sent employees back into the excavation without protective measures to prevent another cave-in,” said OSHA Area Director Casey Perkins in Austin. “The loss of this worker’s life was preventable and the employer must be held responsible for ignoring excavation safety rules.”

D Guerra Construction LLC, of Austin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on April 25.

An investigating into the fatal incident began on Oct. 25, two days after the collapse, when D Guerra Construction notified OSHA of the hospitalization, according to the news release. The notification was late, as law requires employers to report workplace hospitalizations within 24 hours.

OSHA cited D Guerra Construction for “willful violations” of not having a trench protective system in place, exposing employees to cave-in hazards, failing to inspect the excavation and exposing workers to the possibility of being hit by material and equipment, according to the news release.

The contractor was also cited for violations involving failure to train employees working the excavation, exposing workers to dangers of being struck and caved in, and not having protective measures for when water was in the trench.

With these violations, OSHA proposed $243,406 in penalties against D Guerra Construction, which has 15 business days to either “comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission,” according to the news release.

From 2011-2018, 166 workers died in trench collapses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in 2019, OSHA reported at least 24 worker deaths “while working on trenching and excavation projects,” according to the news release.

OSHA says all 24 deaths were preventable if the “required safety measures” were in place.

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