Kirkland construction company guilty of ‘6 willful safety violations’

Sep 13, 2023, 9:38 AM | Updated: 10:59 am

l&I kirkland...

Workers build a trench to create new water line, replacing a 90-year-old pipe system in the process. (Photo by David Butow via Getty Images)

(Photo by David Butow via Getty Images)

Osprey Group LLC, a Kirkland construction company that works primarily in excavation and development, is facing $170,000 in fines for not protecting workers from the dangers of trenching, according to the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I).

The safety violations L&I cited against the Osprey Group LLC included not using a trench box to prevent cave-ins and not giving workers a way to escape in the event of a trench collapse.

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“The owner admitted he knows the requirements. He has 20 years of experience in trenching and excavating,” Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in a prepared statement. “This shows blatant disregard for worker safety. We will do everything in our power to protect workers from serious injury or death when an employer won’t.”

L&I’s investigation dates back to March when inspectors arrived at an Osprey-operated site to find workers digging storm drains in the right of way for two adjacent lots of land. The inspectors photographed two workers in a trench approximately 11 feet deep without a trench box installed. An 8-foot-tall trench box was available on site, but the company was not using it, according to L&I. Tangentially, even though there were ladders on site, they also weren’t being used as workers had to walk the entire span of the trench to reach a ladder to exit.

According to L&I’s statement, the company owner, Jay Schlau, told inspectors they would install the trench box and slope back any dirt above the height of the box away from the edge of the trench. However, L&I stopped all work at the site after finding the site was operating without the requested protections the very next day.

L&I cited the Osprey Group with six willful serious safety violations because “the contractor knew the dangers of trenching and excavating but still failed to follow the required safety measures to protect workers” L&I stated.

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Trench collapses are extremely dangerous hazards in the construction industry. In 2022, trench collapse accidents caused the deaths of 39 construction workers in the U.S. — more than double the workers killed in 2021 from trench accidents (15).

a Kent contractor was fined $400,000 by L&I for safety violations that led to the death of a construction worker in September 2022. Surjit Gill, 36, was killed when the dirt walls of a trench collapsed, burying him. Gill was working on a new housing development in Renton. L&I inspectors found that no one inspected the trench for safety before Gil entered, later determining there was no safe way of getting out of the trench. They also found the shields that were installed were inadequate for the soil type.

“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,” Blackwood continued. “We hope this increased scrutiny will save lives.”

So far, in 2023, L&I has conducted more than 90 inspections of trenching and excavation sites, citing more than 40 businesses for health and safety violations after joining a national enforcement program the previous December to increase enforcement presence at excavation work sites.

Fines paid from citations go into the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

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In the process of the investigation into Osprey Group LLC, inspectors also discovered the company was not registered as the contractor for the construction project, which is required by state law.

Instead of Osprey listed as the contractor, another group, whose owner happens to be friends with Osprey’s owner Jay Schlau, according to L&I, allowed the project permits to be placed under his company’s name and registration number on behalf of the Osprey Group.

The false use of another contractor’s registration number violates requirements meant to help protect consumers from fraud. The Osprey Group is now considered a severe violator and is subject to greater scrutiny. It is appealing the citation.

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Kirkland construction company guilty of ‘6 willful safety violations’