OSHA penalizes Houston contractor over safety violations resulting in worker's death

(UI) — A federal inquiry into safety practices following a fatal trench collapse near Fulshear, Texas, has resulted in penalties exceeding $250,000 for a Houston-area contractor, KHOU 11 reported.

The investigation, conducted by the United States Department of Labor, revealed that Hurtado Construction Co. exhibited "willful disregard for required safety procedures," leading to the tragic death of an 18-year-old worker in September 2023.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, found that the company allowed the man to work without adequate protective measures. The fatal incident occurred when a 15-foot trench wall collapsed, burying the worker beneath tons of soil against a reinforced concrete box, according to KHOU 11.

"The company’s callous disregard has cost a young man his life and left his family, friends and co-workers to grieve a terrible tragedy under circumstances that were completely preventable," OSHA Area Director Larissa Ipsen told KHOU 11.

OSHA's investigation resulted in severe penalties for Hurtado Construction Co., including one willful citation for permitting employees to work in hazardous trenches without proper protection, and five serious citations.

These serious citations pertained to the absence of first aid provision, lack of emergency escape ladder, disregard for saturated excavation conditions, and improper use of reinforced concrete boxes for protection during excavation work.

The company now faces penalties totaling $257,811 for these violations.

Hurtado Construction Co. has been given 15 business days to comply with the citations and penalties, request an informal discussion with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent OSHA review commission.

Headquartered in Richmond, Hurtado Construction Co. specializes in water, sewer, and stormwater line installations and repairs. Notably, this is not the first instance of regulatory action against the company. In 2021, OSHA cited Hurtado Construction Co. for failing to implement adequate protective measures at an excavation site in Katy, as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor.

"Hurtado Construction has routinely ignored its legal responsibility to protect employees’ safety and health," Ipsen told KHOU 11.

Furthermore, the company's history includes eight previous OSHA citations related to protective system deficiencies, following another worker fatality in January 2007.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, fatalities linked to excavation and trenching operations have seen a notable increase, rising from 15 worker deaths in 2021 to 40 in 2022.

This story was originally published by KHOU 11.

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