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Employer Indicted for Manslaughter in Boston Trench-Collapse Deaths

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On October 21, 2016, two men were working on a construction site in a 12-foot deep trench when the trench collapsed, trapping them in the soil. The collapse caused damage to an adjacent fire hydrant supply line and the trench quickly filled with water. Coworkers tried to help, but the two men drowned on the scene.

The two men were employees of Atlantic Drain Service Co., Inc., which according to the Boston Globe, “had no business operating” given its track record. The company was cited back in August 2015 for failing to have a rescue team in place, as is required for trench work, and back in 2012 for another four violations, including failing to provide cave-in protection on a trench work site.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an investigation of the deaths of the two employees and cited the company for 18 willful, repeat, serious, and other-than-serious violations of workplace safety standards. They also proposed fines totaling $1,475,813.

In February of this year, Atlantic Drain and its owner, Kevin Otto, were indicted by the Suffolk County grand jury on two counts each of manslaughter and other charges.

Atlantic Drain Cited for 18 Violations of Worker Safety Standards

OSHA’s inspection of the work site found that Atlantic Drain failed to install a support system to protect employees working in the trench from a cave-in and to prevent the fire hydrant from collapsing. They also failed to have in place a response team that could have helped remove the employees from the trench, or to even provide a ladder at all times so the employees could exit the trench.

“The deaths of these two men could have and should have been prevented,” said Galen Blanton, OSHA’s New England regional administrator. “The employer, which previously had been cited by OSHA for the same hazardous conditions, knew what safeguards were needed to protect its employees but chose to ignore that responsibility.”

Trenches Can Be Very Dangerous for Employees

Construction safety standards demand that companies take precautions when excavating and requiring employees to work in trenches. Trenches must be supported by a system made with materials like posts, beams, shores or planking, hydraulic jacks, and shielded by a trench box. In addition, a safe exit must be provided within 25 feet of workers in the trench.

OSHA explains that cave-ins pose the greatest risk in trenching and excavation work, and that one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car. “Employers must ensure that workers enter trenches only after adequate protections are in place to address cave-ins,” the administration says in a brochure on trench safety. In fact, federal regulations require that trenches deeper than five feet be shored up for safety.

According to EHS Today, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced the manslaughter indictments on February 8, 2017: “We allege that Mr. Otto and Atlantic Drain Services willfully, wantonly, and recklessly failed to take the standard safety precautions that could have averted that tragedy.”

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