Death in the Trench

Source: Jim Morris, Center for Public Integrity, December 14, 2017

Jim Spencer suffocated under a pile of dirt in Nebraska — a grim reminder of the weakness of America’s worker-safety law. ….

…. The general contractor overseeing the building of the house, Clau-Chin Construction, had outsourced the trench-digging to an excavation contractor, Larry Kessler Construction. Interviewed by officials with the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration after Spencer’s death, the owners of both companies – Shaun Houchin, of Clau-Chin, and Kessler —  professed ignorance of the OSHA trenching standard. Both were cited and assessed fines of $24,800 and $16,800, respectively. “To me, that was nothing,” Cheryl Spencer says. “How is it you can kill somebody with a car and get charged with vehicular homicide, and kill somebody in a trench and get a slap on the wrist?” It’s a fair question. The unsatisfying answer is that the protection of workers is not a priority in the United States. ….