Plumber fined after cave-in buried man

January 21, 1992|By Michael K. Burns

The state has fined an Edgemere plumbing company $9,935 for the trench cave-in that buried a sewer-line worker on Nov. 7 in Eastpoint.

But the fine amounts to only a fraction of the expense of rescuing the trapped worker and treating him at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, said Craig Lowry, enforcement chief for the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office.

"What was the cost to Baltimore County and the state to successfully extricate this man?" asked Mr. Lowry. "I would guess it came close to $1 million."

Dozens of rescue workers worked eight hours to free Jere David Kates from the 9-foot-deep trench that collapsed on him while he tried to unblock a residential sewer line.

Mr. Kates, 28, of Timonium, was flown by state police helicopter to the trauma center where he received surgery on a crushed left leg. He is now recovering.

The employer, Howard N. Carter & Sons Inc. of Edgemere, was cited by MOSH for a total of eight safety violations related to the incident.

One violation, failure to shore up the trench walls, was classified as willful and brought a $6,350 fine. The law requires shoring, sloping or providing a protective shield for any trench deeper than five feet.

The company also was cited for failing to have a safety program, lack of proper work-site inspection, failure to inform employees of trenching precautions, absence of an access ladder in the trench, lack of hard hats and failure to analyze soil conditions to determine protection needed. Fines for these violations totaled $3,585.

Mr. Lowry said the company was cited for a willful violation because of "plain indifference to the requirements of the safety standards -- they knew what the standards were and didn't take the required steps."

MOSH inspectors said plywood and screwjacks at the site did not meet safety requirements for shoring the trench.

Gerard Martin, a lawyer for the Carter firm, said the company would probably appeal the citations and ask MOSH to reconsider the fines.

"I don't know that you can blame the company for this accident," Mr. Martin said. The firm was prepared to send out a trench box, or protective shield, to the site but no one there ever asked for it, he said.

Howard Carter, an officer of the firm, said the cave-in was the first for the family-owned company since it was founded 48 years ago.

Mr. Kates, the injured worker, has been employed by the firm for four years. He has not yet returned to work.

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