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Cal/OSHA cited Covina-based Los Angeles Engineering, Inc. following a trench collapse in March which killed one employee and severely injured another. The two pipe layers were checking the depth of the trench when an unshored wall caved in. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office identified the dead man as 50 year old Gilbert Vargas. Emergency workers recovered his body after about nine hours of digging in the 200 block of North Temescal Canyon Road, just north of Pacific Coast Highway. The workers had been excavating with back hoes on a city storm water project. The Temescal Canyon project was part of a $50-million city program, funded by voter-approved bonds, to clean up Santa Monica Bay.

Cal/OSHA issued four citations to Los Angeles Engineering, Inc., one general, two serious and a willful serious violation, totaling $100,635. Violations included failure to properly protect the trench from caving in, not inspecting the trench after a cave-in that occurred earlier in the day, lack of employee training on heat illness prevention, and lack of an effective Injury and Illness Prevention Plan. The citation was classified as Willful because the employer failed to install the required shoring in the trench after the earlier cave-in and still sent workers into the unprotected trench.

A Willful violation is cited when an employer is aware that a hazardous condition exists but makes no reasonable effort to eliminate it. A Serious workplace safety violation is cited when there is a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. A General violation is one in which an accident or illness may result but would probably not cause death or serious harm.

“Incidents like this are heartbreaking because they are so unnecessary,” said Acting Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum. “Employers must be more vigilant in protecting worker safety.” “When safety is not a priority, there can be tragic consequences, and this incident is a sad reminder of that fact,” said Christine Baker, director of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). Cal/OSHA, also known as the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, is a division of DIR.

Construction is a dangerous business. Of the 4,609 worker deaths nationally in 2011, 721, or nearly one in six, happened during construction, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. By way of comparison, 125 law enforcement officers that year died in the performance of their duties.