DENVER (CBS4) — A Colorado excavation company has until October 16 to contest a citation issued by the federal government or pay $31,446 in workplace safety penalties. The company, Backhoe Excavation, Inc. based in Firestone, was cited in late September as part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s investigation into the deaths of two workers last April.
Cristopher Ramirez, 26, of Boulder, and Jorge Baez Valadez, 41, of Denver, succumbed to their injuries while rescuers attempted to extricate them from a collapsed trench in Windsor on April 16.
The pair was installing a new sewer line in a housing development. According to an OSHA document obtained by CBS4, the two men were working in a trench approximately 31 feet long, five feet wide, and 14 feet deep. The trench was not reinforced with a safety system such as a trenchbox or shoring that would prohibited a cave-in, the report states.
According to an OSHA factsheet, trenches 5 feet or deeper require some kind of protective system unless the excavation is being done in stable rock.
Additionally, the bottom of the trench contained standing water, a condition known to weaken trench walls.
OSHA’s citation faulted the company for allowing the unsafe conditions and for not removing the workers from them.
After the collapse, other employees tried to dig the men out with hand tools. Rescuers, too, were limited and, due to the lack of stability in the ground near the collapse, opted to refrain from using heavy equipment for fear of worsening the situation. The operation went past dusk.
Rescuers were able to converse with one of the men through a pipe, but both were deceased by the time rescuers reached them.
Valadez was the father of five children at the time of his death.
Ramirez’s wife was carrying the couple’s first child when he died. She shared her final conversations with her husband in an interview with CBS4’s Dillon Thomas less than a week after the accident.
Backhoe Excavating was also cited by OSHA for having unsafe ladders in use at the site, and for lacking labeling and training of hazardous chemicals at the site.
In another September citation regarding a different incident, OSHA fined an Alamosa company $92,819 for exposing employees to trenching hazards. The agency’s new release says OSHA inspectors arrived at a Greenwood Village site and found three RMS Utilities Inc. employees working in an unprotected 13-foot-deep excavation.
Moments after their exit, one side of the trench collapsed.
“In this instance, the inspectors’ quick action removed workers from what could have been a tragic event,” said OSHA Englewood Area Director David Nelson.