Aqua Ohio Cited for Deadly Trench Collapse

Regional sewer and water utility fined $44,800 after failing to provide cave-in protection and other violations.

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As he helped widen a road on Station Street in Mentor, Ohio, a 28-year-old water and sewer utility worker suddenly found himself buried beneath thousands of pounds of soil when a trench, more than 5 feet deep in which he worked, collapsed on him. Hours later, his injuries led to the man’s death in a nearby hospital.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found his employer, Aqua Ohio, did not provide trench cave-in protection for its employees. OSHA cited the company for one repeated and five serious safety violations this month after the agency completed its investigation into the March 29 death of Alexander Marcotte, 28, the father of three.

“This young man’s death was preventable," says Howard Eberts, OSHA’s area director in Cleveland. "It is unacceptable that Aqua Ohio again risked the lives of its employees in an unprotected trench. The company knows cave-in protection is required in a trench more than 5 feet deep, but their failure to comply cost a man his life.”

Proposed penalties total $44,800. While investigating the fatality OSHA found Aqua Ohio:

  • Failed to train workers in recognizing trench hazards.
  • Did not provide trench cave-in protection.
  • Failed to protect workers from excavated material failing or rolling into a trench or failing from inside the trench walls.
  • Did not have a competent person make work site inspections.

A subsidiary of Aqua America, Aqua Ohio is a water and sewer utility operator in 17 Ohio counties with 33 water treatment facilities, three wastewater treatment facilities with more than 2,200 miles of main and 141,434 water connections.

This is second time OSHA has cited the water and sewer utility company for putting its employees at risk in unprotected trenches. In November 2013, the agency cited Aqua Ohio for a similar violation at a job site in Ashtabula and fined the company in January 2014.

One cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds — the weight of a small automobile — giving Marcotte little chance of survival as he connected water lines beneath the ground. Trenching and excavation work are among the construction industry’s most dangerous jobs and, each year hundreds of workers in unprotected trenches are crushed or suffocated.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations. Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of trench.

To ask questions, obtain compliance assistance, file a complaint, or report workplace hospitalizations, fatalities or situations posing imminent danger to workers, the public should call OSHA’s toll-free hotline at 800/321-OSHA (6742).


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