A properly shored up trench OSHA

As we honor the achievements and rights of America’s workers this Labor Day, we at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration continue the agency’s 53-year tradition of protecting the nation’s workers by encouraging employers, large and small, to make safety and health a core value in every U.S. workplace.

Federal law provides every person who works in the U.S. the fundamental right to safe and healthful working conditions regardless of race, gender, age, nationality, immigration status or the language spoken. To protect these rights, employers must have effective workplace safety programs in place at each workplace to control hazards associated with that particular industry, such as trench collapses or cave-ins.

Such hazards are preventable with a protective system, which includes sloping or shoring trench walls and using a protective trench box, training employees to recognize and avoid trenching hazards, making certain a safe way to enter and exit a trench exists and never letting employees enter a trench unless a trained professional has inspected it properly.

In our area, we saw how dangerous trenching and excavation hazards are in July 2022, when Manchester contractor Botticello Inc. ignored legally required safeguards that would have prevented a trench collapse that led to an employee’s death in an 8-foot-deep trench in Vernon.

Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, special agents with the department’s Office of Inspector General and detectives with the Vernon Police Department investigated the collapse. OSHA’s Hartford Office found Botticello Inc. failed to provide the trench with a protective system to prevent it from collapsing and caving in on workers and cited the company for willful violations with proposed penalties of $375,021.

Based on its investigations, the Vernon Police Department arrested Dennis Botticello, the company’s owner and Glen Locke, a Somers equipment operator, on charges of first-degree manslaughter and first-degree reckless endangerment in March 2023.

Incidents such as this remind us of why we must demand that workplace culture focus on the importance of employee safety and its positive effects on worker safety and morale. When hazards are ignored, workers should never accept the unsafe conditions as “part of the job.” Workers should feel comfortable sharing safety concerns with their employer. When employers ignore their responsibility or retaliate against employees, OSHA’s recently expanded team of investigators in its Whistleblower Protection Program is available to ensure workers can exercise their rights.

In concert with our enforcement efforts, OSHA offers compliance assistance to employers and workers to improve workplace safety and health. For small businesses concerned about the expense of a review to identify and address safety and health hazards, we offer a no-cost and confidential visit from professionals in OSHA’s On-Site Consultation Program, who can help design and establish or improve safety and health programs.

Every worker in our nation has the right to end each workday safe and healthy and OSHA exists to protect and enforce their rights by preventing employee injuries, illnesses and deaths. As we mark another Labor Day, we encourage employers to commit to making safety and health a bedrock value at work.

Dale Varney is Area Director of OSHA in Hartford.