Kirkland contractor faces stiff fines for knowingly putting trenching workers at risk

September 12, 2023

TUMWATER – A Kirkland construction company is facing $170,000 in fines for not protecting workers from the dangers of trenching.

The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) cited the Osprey Group LLC recently for several safety violations including not using a trench box to prevent cave-ins and not giving workers a way to escape in the event of a trench collapse.

When performed improperly, trenching is among the most dangerous work in construction.

L&I inspectors arrived at the site in Kent last March to find the Osprey workers digging storm drains in the right of way for two adjacent lots of land. The inspectors photographed two workers in a trench approximately 11 feet deep without a trench box installed. An eight-foot-tall trench box was available on site, but the company was not using it. Additionally, even though there were ladders on site, they weren’t being used and workers had to walk the entire span of the trench to reach a ladder to exit.

The company owner, Jay Schlau, told inspectors they would install the trench box and slope back any dirt above the height of the box away from the edge of the trench. However, inspectors returned the next day to find trenching was still happening without adequate protection, so L&I stopped all work at the site.

L&I cited the Osprey Group with six willful serious safety violations, because the contractor knew the dangers of trenching and excavating but still failed to follow the required safety measures to protect workers. Willful violations are among the most serious, and mean the employer knew what the safety requirements are, but chose to ignore them.

“The owner admitted he knows the requirements. He has 20 years of experience in trenching and excavating. This shows blatant disregard for worker safety,” said Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. “We will do everything in our power to protect workers from serious injury or death when an employer won’t.”

In the process of their investigation, inspectors also learned the Osprey Group was not registered as a construction contractor, as required by state law. Instead, another contractor who is a friend of Osprey’s owner allowed the project permits to be pulled in his company’s name and registration number on behalf of the Osprey Group.

The false use of another contractor’s registration number violates requirements meant to help protect consumers from contractor fraud. L&I’s Contractor Compliance team issued citations and fines to both companies and the unregistered contractor who worked on the project.

Trenching deaths on the rise
Trench collapses are one of the most dangerous hazards in the construction industry taking 39 worker’s lives across the U.S. in 2022—more than double the 15 workers killed in 2021.

L&I joined a national enforcement program in December to increase enforcement presence at excavation work sites. So far this year, L&I has conducted more than 90 inspections of trenching and excavation sites, citing more than 40 businesses for health and safety violations.

“Our compliance safety and health officers are initiating inspections when they see an open trench four feet deep or more, so we check the trenches we come across for safety," said Blackwood. “We hope this increased scrutiny will save lives.”

The Osprey Group is now considered a severe violator and is subject to greater scrutiny. It is appealing the citation.

Fines paid from citations go into the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job. 

Two men in trench

Two Osprey Group LLC workers were photographed last March in a trench approximately 11 feet deep without a trench box installed.

For media information:

Dina Lorraine, L&I Public Affairs, 360-972-4868.

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