California Construction Company Fined for Workplace Fatality

Dec. 20, 2018

The California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal/OSHA), fined a California construction company following the death of a construction worker when a trench collapsed at a residential development. The agency found that the company committed serious errors and failed to protect its employees from hazards, leading to the fatality. Furthermore, Cal/OSHA found that one of the violations the company committed was a repeat violation. The construction accident highlighted how dangerous working conditions for construction workers can be, especially where proper safety precautions are not taken.

Empire Equipment Service Fined $66,000

On May 9, 2018, as 39-year-old Juan Diego Lopez and a co-worker were installing sewage pipes for a residential development; a 30-foot section of the trench they were working in collapsed. Lopez died from asphyxiation while his co-worker escaped.

Cal/OSHA investigated the construction fatality and found “serious workplace safety violations” on the part of Empire Equipment Service, including not classifying the soil as unstable, not correctly judging the excavation’s slope, and not installing safety protections for its workers.

“Because working in excavations is so dangerous, a competent person must conduct thorough visual and manual tests to properly classify the soil and adequately protect employees from cave-ins,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum in a statement. “Failing to carry out these requirements can be fatal.”   

According to Cal/OSHA’s investigation, the company did not have the construction site inspected by someone competent and familiar with the hazards found in a trench, knowledgeable about soil classification, and familiar with safety requirements. Furthermore, Cal/OSHA found Empire Equipment previously exposed workers to a similar hazard when the trench they were working in did not have proper sloping and lacked protective systems for a trench of deeper than five feet. For that violation, Empire Equipment was fined $24,670.  

The agency fined Empire Equipment $66,000 for this most recent serious violation. Citations are deemed serious when there is a possibility the violation could cause death or other serious harm. Source;

Department of Industrial Relations Releases Workplace Fatalities Report

Because Lopez died on the job in 2018, his death is not included in the 376 reported by California’s Department of Industrial Relations 2017 Fatal Occupational Injuries Report. According to the department, the 376 fatalities in the state in 2017 is the same number as in 2016, and slightly less than the 388 in 2016.  

Among the findings from the Department of Industrial Relations were that 22 percent of all workplace deaths in California were linked to trips, slips, and falls, and 88 percent of those involved the worker falling to a lower level. Meanwhile, 37 percent of California work-related deaths occurred in a transportation-related accident, while assaults and violent acts made up 20 percent of the state’s work-related deaths.

The construction industry had 69 fatal injuries in 2017, including 5 that were deemed violence caused by persons or animals; 15 transportation incidents; 32 trips, slips, and falls; 9 linked to exposure to harmful chemicals; and 8 that involved contact with objects and equipment. Building construction—including residential and non-residential buildings—had the highest number of construction deaths at 19. Specialty trade contractors had 44 fatalities.

Construction Injury Lawyers

At Cutter Law, we’re proud to advocate for the hardworking people employed in the construction industry. We know how dangerous construction work can be and we fight aggressively against the companies and organizations that violate California laws, putting their workers at risk of serious injury or death. Our skilled attorneys are highly knowledgeable about workplace safety laws in California and have fought to protect workers’ rights to a safe, hazard-free workplace.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in a California construction accident or suffered a construction workplace injury you deserve the best representation. You need lawyers who will not back down against unethical construction companies. You need to ensure your rights are protected. We have a proven track record, having recovered millions of dollars for our clients in the construction industry.

We are available to guide you through the process and help you determine if a lawsuit is in your best interests. Contact our construction injury attorneys today to discuss your legal rights. We are available by phone at 888-285-3333 or can be reached by filling out this online form.

Personal injury and civil justice attorney Brooks Cutter is a leading advocate for consumer justice and protecting the rights of the severely injured. Brooks founded Cutter Law, P.C., with offices in Sacramento and Oakland, with…
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