WhiteCollarCrime-1FINALCave-ins occur with regularity. And when a collapse results in injury or death to workers, the consequences can be costly — financially and psychologically. There can be fines, penalties, lost work and downtime, and untold distress to everyone touched by the incident — families, co-workers, and friends. And sometimes criminal charges are filed against company owners and officers. Such is the case in a story from California in recent days.

Death of Worker Leads to Indictment

A Fremont, Calif.,-based contractor, its owner, and a project manager were indicted in mid-August 2014 on involuntary manslaughter charges in the cave-in death of a construction worker.

The worker was killed in January 2012, after a 12-ft. wall of dirt collapsed on him, burying him alive. The instability of the soil and risk of further cave-in prevented rescuers from recovering the worker’s body for several days.

Work was Supposed to be Stopped

Three days before the collapse, a building inspector issued a “stop work” notice to the project manager at the site because several days of torrential rain raised the risk of cave-ins. Further, the project had no permit for excavations deeper than 5 ft. Work continued at the site despite the stop-work notice, and a second stop-work order was subsequently issued. Still, no one stopped working at the site.

“This case is about what happens when construction companies cut corners on safety,” the Santa Clara County District Attorney said in a news release. “Workplace safety is not an option. What happened to [this worker] was not an accident. It was a crime.” The maximum sentence for felony involuntary manslaughter is three years in prison. The construction company also faces a fine of up to $1.5 million for labor code violations.

In June 2012, Cal-OSHA fined the same company $168,175 for what it called “numerous serious and willful violations of Cal-OSHA’s safety standards.”

It’s Not the First Time

While not common, these kinds of criminal charges in construction accidents are not unprecedented.


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All shoring and shielding systems are supplied with tabulated data by the manufacturer. In this example, the tab data is secured to a steel shield inside a protective plastic pouch. All shoring and shielding systems are supplied with tabulated data by the manufacturer. In this example, the tab data (protected from the weather inside a plastic pouch) is secured to a steel shield.


Use the Manufacturer’s “Tab Data” for Shoring and Shielding Systems

To properly use any shoring or shielding system, it is important to understand and follow the tabulated data for the system. This data is provided by the system’s manufacturer, and is called “manufacturer’s tabulated data,” or “tab data.”

In many cases, this information is on a plate that is welded or riveted to one of the trench shield sidewalls. In other cases, the information may be on paper. The exact format does not matter. What does matter is that the information is at every job site where shoring or shielding systems are used.

Here’s how the “Competent Person” should use this tab data:

  1. Make certain the tabulated data matches the system on the job site. For example, if you are using an “XYZ Corporation, Model #123, Steel Trench Shield,” make certain that the data for that specific shield is on the job site. OSHA says that only the make and model of the trench shield and the tab data have to match. However, most manufacturers serially number their shields, and encourage end users to match the shield and tab data by make, model, and serial number.
  2. Make sure the tabulated data includes the name and stamp of the registered professional engineer who designed the system.
  3. Review the section in the tab data that deals with special instructions or limitations. Typically this section will include information about assembly, conditions of use, surcharge loading, backfilling, and maintenance requirements.
  4. Read ALL the footnotes.
  5. Check the chart that shows depth ratings. This chart is particularly important. The Competent Person must match each system’s depth ratings to the job site’s soil conditions, to provide proper (and legal!) protection for employees.

What Do Two Depth Ratings Mean?

Some manufacturers will show two depth ratings for each type of soil. One depth rating is for short-term exposure (less than 24 hours), and the other is for long-term exposure. Long-term ratings will be shallower, because, as time passes — and the surrounding soil dries out or becomes wetter — the potential lateral earth pressure increases.

You Should Keep Tab Data on the Job Site . . .
At All Times

Subpart P of the OSHA standard says that the manufacturer’s tabulated data must be on site during construction of the system. Afterwards, the data may be stored off site, but must be available for inspection by OSHA upon request. As a practical matter, because trench shields are constantly being moved, the data should stay on site at all times.

What About Deviations from the Tab Data?

Occasionally, it may be necessary to deviate from the information contained in tabulated data. An example: When you use a shield in some manner not specifically addressed in the tabulated data. Such a circumstance is called a “Manufacturer’s Deviation,” and the manufacturer must issue specific written approval for the specific use, and the approval must be on site during construction and setup. Afterward, the approval may be stored off site, but it must be available for inspection upon request. Again, as a practical matter, the written approval should be on site at all times.

In our next installment — in a couple of weeks — we’ll look at how to handle and use trench shields.

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Trench Shields – Part 2: How to Determine the Proper Size of Your Trench Shield

July 29, 2014

Sizing an Trench Shield Correctly sizing a trench shield is a critical step toward maximizing the safety of your workers. You must address several questions: What is the excavation’s depth? The answer to this question will determine the height of the needed trench shield. It is possible to stack multiple shields in deeper excavations. For [...]

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