Trench Collapse Dangers: Fines, Criminal Liability

02.08.2023
Construction trench, bulldozer, hard hat
HR & Safety

OSHA reported nearly 40 workers in the United States died in 2022 because of trench collapses. 

Many of the companies involved face hefty financial penalties, and in some cases criminal charges, as a result of federal investigations. 

The owner of a Colorado construction company is facing felony manslaughter charges after a worker died in November of 2021 when the trench he was working in collapsed.

In May 2022, OSHA cited the company, A4S LLC, for failing to use legally-required trench protection systems issuing three willful citations and one serious citation. 

‘Deteriorating Conditions’

Investigators said there were deteriorating conditions at the project site, which the company could have prevented by using legally required trench protection systems.

Agency officials proposed fines totalling $449,583 and referred the case to the local district attorney.

The DA charged the company owner with felony manslaughter in January of 2023.

“DOL will exhaust every resource to hold employers accountable for protecting workers, including recommending criminal prosecution,” said regional administrator Jennifer Rous.  

Willful Violation

Closer to home, a Connecticut contractor is facing more than $375,000 in fines after an employee died when an eight-foot-deep trench caved in on him in July.  

OSHA investigators determined that Botticello Inc. exposed their employee to deadly hazards when he connected drainage piping at a residential construction site. 

Investigator said the company failed to:

  • Provide the trench with a protective system to prevent it from collapsing and caving in on workers.
  • Have a competent person conduct inspections before and during the work to identify and correct any hazardous conditions before employees entered the trench.
  • Ensure the 135-foot-long trench contained sufficient means of egress to allow employees to safely exit.

The agency cited the company with three willful violations.

OSHA’s area director Dale Varney noted the agency’s frustration with the company’s repeated behavior as it already had four serious trench related incidents on record in the area. 

Safety Standards

OSHA has a National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavations.

There are also a number of federal trenching safety standards

Of the standards, OSHA requires protective systems for trenches deeper than five feet and soil and other materials be kept at least two feet from the trench’s edge. 

Trenches must also be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards, and have a safe means of entry and exit before a worker may enter.


For more information, contact CBIA’s Phillip Montgomery (860.244.1982).

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