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'Serial violator:' OSHA cites Sioux Falls contractor twice, adding to dozen citations over past decade

The most recent complaints stem from two inspections in 2021, where OSHA says workers in Tea and Salem were at risk of being buried by thousands of pounds of dirt.

City of Mitchell workers lay down sewer drainage pipes along Pheasant Street in this 2015 photo in Mitchell. Wastewater projects are a priority for municipalities around South Dakota, but paying for them has proven to be much tougher. (Republic file photo)
This 2015 file photo pictures a city of Mitchell worker laying sewer drainage pipes in a trench. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently cited H&W Contracting, of Sioux Falls, for placing workers at risk of trench collapses.
Mitchell Republic file photo
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A Sioux Falls contracting company is in hot water with federal safety inspectors after they were cited for willful safety violations at two separate job sites in a span of seven days.

Federal workplace safety inspectors with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration say H&W Contracting, of Sioux Falls, willfully placed workers at risk of being buried under thousands of pounds of soil while they worked in unprotected trenches at two locations in Tea and Salem.

On Nov. 16, 2021, OSHA inspectors responded to a complaint and allege they found H&W Contracting workers in an unprotected trench in Tea as they installed a 6-inch waterline to a fire hydrant at 271st Street and Kerslake Place.

In Tea, the company also failed to protect gas, electric, water and communications systems from struck-by or other hazards and did not extend a ladder three feet above the edge of the excavation to allow for safe egress from the trench.

Six days later, another complaint led OSHA to open a second inspection, where they say inspectors discovered that company employees were working in five separate unprotected trenches as they replaced storm sewers in Salem.

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In both inspections, OSHA reported that H&W Contracting failed to install trench protection systems and that a competent person failed to remove workers from hazardous situations.

“Each site had a different foreman, different crew members and a different scope of work. The common thread is H&W Contracting’s continued failure to protect its workers,” said OSHA Area Director Sheila Stanley in Sioux Falls. “Trench collapses are among the construction industry’s most deadly hazards. Workers caught when thousands of pounds of loose soil and rocks pour on and around them often suffer serious injuries or worse. H&W Contracting must change the way it operates before disaster strikes.”

After the November inspections, the agency identified one willful and three serious violations and proposed $122,838 in penalties from the Tea location and one willful violation with proposed penalties of $95,718 for the Salem location.

Specific citation information is not currently available on OSHA's database.

OSHA poster
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration shared this informational poster regarding trench safety.
Poster courtesy of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

In a press release, OSHA called H&W Contracting a "serial violator," adding that these discoveries are a continuation of the company's “history of disregarding the serious and often fatal dangers” associated with working in an unprotected trench and federal law.

Over the past decade, the company has been issued a dozen other citations during inspections that focused mostly on trenches. Of those 12 citations, nine were settled formally, while three were settled informally.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, from 2011-2018, 166 workers had died in trench collapses. In 2019, OSHA notes at least 24 workers died while working on trenching and excavation projects.

OSHA has a national emphasis program on trenching and excavations . Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet , and soil and other materials kept at least two feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person, be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter.

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OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.

Related Topics: CONSTRUCTION SIOUX FALLS
A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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