Safety agency says A4S Construction failed to protect its workers on day of fatal trench collapse |

Safety agency says A4S Construction failed to protect its workers on day of fatal trench collapse

Inspectors with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined A4S Construction of Vail failed to install trench safety features at its Breckenridge work site the day Marlon Diaz died in a trench collapse.

The six-month investigation concluded this week with the issuance of four citations and more than $400,000 in penalties against A4S Construction.

On Nov. 16, Diaz and other workers were installing a sewer line for a new housing development at 206 Sallie Barber Road near Breckenridge when the trench they were working in collapsed. One worker dug himself out, fellow crew members dug out a second partially buried worker, and Diaz died due to blunt force trauma to the head, neck and torso, records state.

The workplace safety organization issued three “willful-serious“ citations to A4S for not ensuring the excavation was inspected by a competent person, failing to perform an inspection of the excavation and not having a trench protective system in place. These violations continued to occur at the same Breckenridge work site after the fatal collapse in November, according to OSHA reports.

OSHA also issued one serious citation for not having a safe means of egress within 25 lateral feet of employees working in the trench. According to the citation, the nearest escape ladder was 90 feet away.

OSHA inspectors also determined A4S continued to expose workers to hazards before and after Diaz’s death. The inspectors found other trench collapses had preceded the fatal one in the months prior, and violations reportedly continued after.

At the same construction project in Breckenridge a month later, OSHA says workers were directed into a trench that had not been inspected by a competent person. Likewise, investigators said photographs show no protective system was in place on Dec. 20.

Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials must be kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Construction crews typically use steel trench boxes to prevent the walls from caving in. Trenches must also be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and have a safe means of entering and exiting.

Between August and December 2021, the citation states A4S routinely assigned inexperienced and untrained workers to work in trenches despite their inability to recognize and avoid unsafe trench conditions.

In prior reporting, the Summit Daily interviewed workers with A4S who witnessed the fatal trench collapse. Two of four workers cited in the story were current A4S employees, and they were granted anonymity for fear of retaliation that would affect their livelihood. A pair of workers said they hadn’t received much training, and what training they did receive was in English despite their Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

OSHA imposed penalties of $449,583 and placed A4S Construction in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program.

A4S has 15 business days from receiving the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent OSHA review commission. As of Wednesday, acting U.S. Department of Labor Regional Director Juan Rodríguez said A4S had not responded, but the company still had 12 business days left to do so.

As of publication, A4S Construction had not returned the Summit Daily’s request for comment.

The Severe Violator Enforcement Program can result in increased OSHA inspections. In turn, that can mean increased violations for business that fail to make changes to their workplace procedures.

“OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program focuses enforcement efforts on employers who willfully and repeatedly endanger workers by exposing them to serious hazards,” Rodríguez wrote in an email. “The directive establishes procedures and enforcement actions for the severe violator program, including increased inspections, such as mandatory follow-up inspections of a workplace found in violation and inspections of other work sites of the same company where similar hazards or deficiencies may be present.”

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