Regulators have agreed to significantly reduce fines against the city of Columbia for violations after a city utility worker was killed in a trench collapse earlier this year.
The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said 31-year-old Marvis Myers suffocated on February 6 after an open six-feet-deep sewer line trench caved in as he worked inside it. Investigators with the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration later said in July that the crew had improperly placed the dug-out dirt (spoil) too close to the edge of the trench, and did not use any retaining devices to prevent the spoil from falling back into the trench.
OSHA issued $12,000 in total fines against the city’s Utilities Department and Public Safety Department after finding six “serious” violations at the scene. But after meeting with city officials in an informal conference, the regulators agreed this week to reduce that total down to $5,500. According to both the city and OSHA, the fines come on the condition that the city provide hands-on training for employee rescue procedures in confined space excavations and hire an outside consultant to examine and revise the departments’ safety plans, among other steps.
WIS-TV first reported the agreement on Monday. Most of the difference cam in reducing a pair of $2,000 fines against the Public Safety Department down to a single $500 penalty. Both fines dealt with not providing a safe work environment for a fire department team on-scene. The four remaining fines against the Utilities Department were reduced by half from $10,000 total down to $5,000.
‘In determining whether to reduce a penalty, S.C. OSHA considers the employer’s safety history and willingness to provide additional safety training for its employees beyond what S.C. OSHA can require them to provide,” Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (LLR) spokeswoman Lesia Kudelka said in an email. LLR is the parent agency for South Carolina’s OSHA agency. The Palmetto State is among the handful nationwide that have state OSHA offices that work with the federal agency of the same name.
Kudelka emphasized that the city was expected to make the changes regardless of the fines.
“The death of Mr. Marvis Myers was tragic and has affected the City of Columbia family tremendously,” city Human Resources Director Pamela Benjamin in a statement. “We acknowledge receipt of the recent violations/fines issued against the City of Columbia Public Safety and City of Columbia Public Utilities departments as a result of the OSHA investigation regarding Mr. Myers. It should be noted that, as a result of an informal conference conducted by SCLLR, fines issued against the City of Columbia were reduced or eliminated.”