A-1 Excavating Inc.’s $474,000 settlement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration could send a serious message to other underground contractors.
The agreement settles citations the Bloomer-based company received in 2008 and 2009. Inspectors from OSHA targeted A-1’s projects in summer 2008, interviewed company employees and collected photos of A-1’s work in municipalities that hired the company, said Charles Palmer, attorney representing A-1.
The year of close scrutiny was fair but intensely focused, said Palmer of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP’s Waukesha office.
“I believe that OSHA legitimately considers underground construction a safety concern,” he said. “The risks are significant, and I believe OSHA’s intent was to make an example of a contractor and they saw a number of violations and spent some time focusing intently on this company.”
The OSHA settlement with A-1 will bring the contractor back into compliance with safety regulations, said agency spokesman Scott Allen. The settlement A-1 signed Wednesday requires the contractor hire a full-time safety director, train employees in health and safety plans, notify OSHA of all project sites and give inspectors access to projects without the need of a warrant for the next three years. It also requires the builder reduce the salary of job superintendents and project managers who fail to follow OSHA requirements.
“The settlement is designed to keep the employer on the right track and ensure a proactive approach for the health and safety of its employees,” Allen said.
The agreement covers citations totaling $693,000 for a 2008 project in Weston, $98,000 in penalties for an August 2009 project in New Richmond and $70,000 in citations issued this month for a project in Merrimac.
The agency in the past used settlement agreements to force builders to increase safety precautions, said Bruce Morton, safety consultant with Platt Safety Services, a subsidiary of Platt Construction Inc., Franklin.
He said trench safety has been a priority for OSHA during the past few years because of the high risk of fatalities with trench collapses such as in December 2007 when a worker was trapped and killed in a trench in Kenosha.
“Somebody tripping on a board and falling and scraping their face isn’t as big of a deal as an 8-foot trench wall falling and hitting someone,” Morton said.
Palmer said the A-1 settlement will increase safety for excavation contractors.
In the underground contracting industry, foremen must be union workers, he said, which means they move around between multiple employers. The settlement, which was ironed out with input from the Wisconsin Laborers District Council and Operating Engineers Local 139 in Pewaukee, requires foremen to get extra OSHA training in trench safety and trench collapse response, he said. Between 15 and 20 foremen will receive the training through the A-1 settlement, he said.
The company and its safety inspectors also will assume the responsibility of mentoring other companies, Palmer said.
“The outcome is A-1 will have a very, very strong safety program,” he said, “and will probably be, and already is, improving safety with everybody that works around them.”