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Minnesota Construction Contractor Faces $1.8m In Federal Penalties

MINOT, ND – Despite signing a 2021 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor that included a promise to protect its employees from potentially deadly trenching and excavation hazards, a Minnesota construction contractor was again found endangering employees in June 2023 as they replaced a residential water main and 20 separate curb stop valves for house connections in Minot. 

In April 2021, Wagner Construction Inc. pledged to improve its safety procedures and training in a comprehensive agreement with the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to resolve violations of federal workplace safety regulations after agency inspectors cited the company at three North Dakota job sites in 2019 and 2020 for exposing employees to excavation hazards.

The agreement included the company’s commitment to make significant changes, including training managers and supervisors and all other employees on trenching and excavation safety; hiring a full-time safety and compliance manager; and purchasing new safety equipment to protect workers against cave-ins and related hazards. In 2021, Wagner provided OSHA confirmation that they had hired an external consultant and purchased the necessary equipment. 

Wagner Construction’s pledges are now under scrutiny after OSHA inspectors, responding to a complaint, discovered unprotected trenches in Minot on June 7, 2023, on 7th Avenue NW between 15th & 16th Streets NW. Agency inspectors learned that the company, from at least June 1 through June 7, 2023, exposed workers to trenching hazards at its work sites.

“Wagner Construction failed to keep their promises to the U.S. government and its employees by ignoring one of the construction industry’s most lethal hazards,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Jennifer Rous in Denver. “In 2022, 39 people died while doing trenching and excavation work — the highest number in almost 20 years — making this company’s unwillingness to protect its employees truly disturbing. With the substantial increase in the number of construction projects in North Dakota and across the nation, employers like Wagner Construction must take all necessary steps to make sure employees are safe on job sites.”

Given the violations’ egregious nature and frequency, OSHA cited the International Falls company for six instance-by-instance repeat violations for exposing workers to cave-in hazards by not using adequate protective systems. They also identified five instance-by-instance repeat violations for not providing a safe means to exit and enter trenches. In at least two instances, OSHA noted Wagner failed to move spoil piles at least two feet away from the excavation’s edge and did not provide workers with required head protection at least three times. 

In total, OSHA cited Wagner Construction Inc. for 16 repeat violations and one serious violation. The company now faces $1.8 million in proposed penalties. 

To raise awareness of trenching hazards, OSHA collaborates with the National Utility Contractors Association and the North American Excavation Shoring Association each June for the annual Trench Safety Stand Down Week. The stand-down raises awareness of the dangers of trenching and excavation and promotes the use of protective systems, such as sloping, shoring and shielding, through webinars, presentations and individual company safety training. 

OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage provides additional information on trenching hazards and solutions, including a safety video.              

Agency Occupational Safety & Health Administration

Date December 5, 2023

Release Number 23-2450-DAK

 

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