Last month, the owner of a Colorado construction company pled guilty to criminal manslaughter charges following the death of an employee as the result of a trench collapse. According to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the employee suffered fatal injuries while installing a sewer line. The agency issued a number of willful violations to the employer based on the lack of a trench protection system along with failure to recognize or plan for the hazard. OSHA noted that the worksite had experienced trench collapses in the past, although it had not cited this employer for those issues.
The OSHA inspection led to a criminal referral and filing of charges against the company owner. In addition to the guilty plea, the company ceased operations. OSHA had assessed fines of $450k in association with the fatality. The plea deal includes a promise by the owner not to engage in any future business activities involving trenching. OSHA’s press release indicated that the owner will be sentenced in November.
Criminal prosecutions of business owners for safety violations are unusual and limited to situations involving serious injuries or death. This case is somewhat different in that OSHA did not cite the employer for a repeat violation. The lack of any evident compliance with trench safety requirements must have been enough for prosecutors to pursue criminal charges.