Safety. It’s a topic I frequently discuss on this blog. Today’s post goes beyond normal safety or injury talk. Today, I’m discussing employers who knowingly choose to put their employees in a situation where injury or death is likely. We’re not talking companies that are negligent in keeping the workplace safe. We’re talking companies that know a grave danger actually exists in the moment but then put their own employees into that danger anyway. What kind of boss sends his own workers into the face of a known danger where their deaths are likely?
No employer should ever knowingly demand its employees put their lives needlessly at risk. No employer should ever choose to ignore known workplace dangers. But, that’s the story I recently read about a deadly workplace accident in another state.
What happened? A deadly trench collapse killed two workers. What makes that collapse so terrible is that the boss sent workers into the trench knowing it had partially collapsed earlier in the day. He knowingly sent his own workers into a collapsing trench to finish the job.
Trench Collapse — A Serious Workplace Danger.
In just the last couple years, we’ve seen two deadly workplace trench collapses in Huntsville. In each case, families were left grieving the wrongful death of a loved one. Once of these collapses involved the City of Huntsville. If the City had followed basic safety rules, those men would still be alive today.
If you want a little more background on trench safety, you can read some of my past articles. Here are a few:
Production. Profits. When The Boss Chooses Them Over People!
Over the years, I’ve seen more cases than I can count where management put production over worker safety. With a little safety planning, most accidents are completely preventable.
I will always remember a trial many years ago here in Madison County. My client fell on a construction site. He lived but suffered disabling injuries. In an effort to recover, he required 9 separate surgeries to his feet, legs and spine. He would never again be able to work.
When we pursued the case, we obtained the construction company’s files on the project. These files were thousands of pages. They contained detailed production plans and detailed billing. The construction company focused on every aspect of production down to hourly weather reports. But, something very important was missing from the thousands upon thousands of pages related to the project! The construction company NEVER even prepared a site specific safety plan. Not a single page covered site safety or the equipment involved in our accident. Not one. Safety was not a concern. Since that case, I’ve seen so many more instances where bosses simply ignored safety planning or safety protocols.
As I mentioned when I started this post, we are not talking today about choices to ignore safety planning. We are talking about a choice to thrust your employees into a known danger that exists in the moment. That’s a horrible choice. It raises the question – Is it criminal?
Is It Criminal When A Supervisor Demands Workers Put Themselves In Known Danger?
Here’s what happened. In October 2021, a Texas contractor was installing a residential water line. Its employees were working in a 13-foot deep trench. Contrary to OSHA rules, the trench was unprotected. The trench began to partially collapse!
Despite a partial collapse earlier that day, the company failed to take protective measures. Instead, it ordered its employees back into the unsafe trench. The trench then caved-in. The cave-in killed one worker. Another suffered serious personal injury.
After investigating the deadly cave-in, OSHA proposed fines and penalties for safety violations which totaled more than $240,000.00. You can read the OSHA press release HERE. No amount of money is worth a human life.
The OSHA citations paint a terrible picture. This contractor failed to take any safety precautions to prevent a trench collapse. When a collapse began, it knowingly ordered its employees back into the unsafe condition. Then, afterwards, it failed to even report the hospitalization of its own employee to OSHA. The company cared nothing for its own people.
Should a supervisor go to jail for knowingly choosing to put his employees into a grave danger? In a separate trench collapse case from Washington State, a supervisor was recently sentenced for criminal reckless endangerment. In the Washington case, it had rained heavily for days. Heavy rain makes soil unstable. The supervisor knew this. Yet, the boss brought only enough safety equipment to protect part of the trench walls. Again, the supervisor knew the trench was dangerous and unprotected. The trench collapsed on a worker.
What are your thoughts on this issue? We’re not talking negligence. We are talking a willful, intentional choice to put a worker into a situation where injury or death is likely. Because OSHA issued a willful citation to the Texas employer in this recent trench collapse, we could see a criminal prosecution. We should never tolerate any company that knows an injury or death is likely but then chooses to endanger employees anyway.