Contractor fined over $400K in trench collapse death of worker

Feb 14, 2023, 12:03 PM
trench collapse...
36-year-old Surjit Gill was killed last September when a trench he was in collapsed and buried him in Renton. (Photo courtesy of Renton Regional Fire Authority)
(Photo courtesy of Renton Regional Fire Authority)

A contractor in Kent will be fined more than $400,000 for violating safety regulations which the Washington state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) says led to the death of a construction worker.

36-year-old Surjit Gill was killed last September when a trench he was in collapsed and buried him in Renton.

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L&I has cited the company in charge of the construction, AAA Contractors Inc., for three willful and one serious violation in connection with the incident. The company was also cited for several general violations. The fines total $437,581.

“One cubic yard of soil can weigh more than a car,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “Dirt walls can collapse suddenly and without any warning. That’s why there are safety rules in place. The requirements are well known by employers in the industry, and effective when followed. Mr. Gill should still be alive today.”

L&I inspectors have determined that Gill had been working in a trench 18-20 feet deep at a new housing development. No one had inspected the trench for safety before the worker entered, and the shields installed were inadequate for the soil type and depth. Employees inside the trench also did not have a safe way of getting out.

Blackwood said when L&I inspectors arrived at the Renton site, they found the trench box designed to hold back the soil was four feet shorter than the top of the trench. Another trench box was found on site, not being used. Inspectors said if AAA Contractors had stacked that box on top of the other one, the cave-in might have been prevented.

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They also found two ladder sections had been tied together with rope, which is not permitted, and still did not make the ladder tall enough to extend the required three feet above the trench. Also, the ladder side rails and rungs were damaged, and they should not have been used.

Gill’s death was the third one in Washington last year; three of the 35 workers were killed in trench excavation incidents in 2022. This is more than double the number of workers killed in trench collapses in 2021.

Two men were killed in a trench collapse at a backyard construction site in Shoreline last July.

Because of the continuing incidence of trench collapses, L&I began to participate in a national enforcement program in December, allowing for an increased enforcement presence at excavation work sites.

“Our compliance safety and health officers are initiating inspections when they see an open trench four feet deep or more, so we check the trenches we come across for safety,” said Blackwood. “We hope this increased scrutiny will save lives.”

Along with the willful and serious violations, AAA Contractors were also cited for several general violations, including not having a first-aid certified person on site, the supervisor or person in charge was not first-aid certified, and there were no documented walk-around safety inspections.

Because of this, AAA Contractors is now identified as a severe violator and is now subject to greater scrutiny. The company has filed an appeal.

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Contractor fined over $400K in trench collapse death of worker