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$7,600 Fine for Worker Buried Alive

Friday, July 12, 2013

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Federal investigators have fined a contractor $7,600 in the first of two worker deaths at a problem-plagued apartment construction project in Fayetteville, AR.

In addition to the two fatalities in separate incidents, the project has confronted a fuel spill and fire-code violations—all in the past three months, authorities said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued $7,600 in fines July 1 to a Houston, TX-based electrical subcontractor for the May death of Brannon Rhine, 20, of Springdale, AR. Rhine, a worker on The Vue project, was reportedly buried alive while working in a trench.

OSHA said Rhine's employer, Business Construction Services LLC, failed to have the trench inspected and to provide a means of exit from the excavation site.

The Vue apartment buildings

A subcontractor on The Vue student housing project in Fayetteville, AR, has been fined $7,600 after one of its workers was buried alive in a trench.

The death was the first of two at the project. The second death remains under investigation by OSHA.

A spokesman for Business Construction Services was unavailable for comment Thursday morning (July 11). The company does not have a record of safety violations, according to OSHA’s database.

Parkcrest Builders, of Houston, is the general contractor on The Vue project. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The First Deadly Incident

On May 5, Rhine was working in a ditch for underground sewer lines at the site when the trench collapsed, burying him alive, according to authorities.

OSHA's citation documents indicate that the excavation, which was greater than six feet, did not have a ladder, ramp or other safe means for entering or exiting.

Police say Rhine was unresponsive when they arrived on the scene. It took them an hour and a half to extricate him, according to local reports.

Brannon Rhine and Meagon Capeheart
Family photo via 5newsonline.com

Brannon Rhine's fiancee, Meagon Capehart, gave birth to their daughter the month after he was killed.

Rhine’s fiancée, Meagon Capehart, told a local television station that Rhine had not received any training and had been working unsupervised. Capehart said she wished OSHA could do more, the report said.

Capehart was pregnant at the time of Rhine’s death; the baby was born a month later, she said.

Second Death under Investigation

A month after Rhine’s death, the project claimed the life of siding worker Jess Wilson, 44, of Joplin, MO, and injured another.

Police say Wilson was installing siding from a boom lift when he struck his head on a high-voltage wire and was electrocuted, according to local reports.

power line safety

One worker was electrocuted on the project June 9, and another was critical injured. OSHA is investigating.

The other worker, Patrick Skaggs, of Joplin, was in the boom lift as well. He was transported to a local hospital for critical injuries, reports said.

Other workers in lifts 60 feet away said that they had felt the surge of electricity. They complained of numbness and were also taken to the hospital as precaution, reports noted.

That investigation remains underway, OSHA said. The name of Wilson and Skaggs' employer was not immediately available.

Proposed Penalties and Violations

The case against Business Construction Services cites three serious violations and proposes fines ranging from $2,000 to $2,800 for each. The company is accused of:

  • Exposing employees to slip-and-fall hazards egressing in and out of a trench greater than five feet;
  • Failing to have excavations greater than five feet deep inspected by a competent person before allowing employees to enter; and
  • Not protecting the employee from cave-ins by an adequate protective system.

An OSHA violation is considered serious if death or serious physical harm can result from a hazard an employer knew or should have known exists.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to contest the case before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. If the company does not file or contest within that period, it must abate the cited conditions within the period ordered in the citations and pay the proposed penalties.

Recent Spill, Fire-Code Past

The apartment project has been marred by other problems as well. In June, hundreds of gallons of diesel spilled from a fuel tank used to fill up construction equipment, reports said.

A spokesperson from Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) said that ParkCrest Builders had hired a contractor to clean the spill and that authorities were reviewing progress and providing updates.

The Vue

The Vue is a 656-unit student housing complex with multi-level townhomes, midrise urban living, and typical apartments near the University of Arkansas.

“The cleanup is ongoing,” said Katherine Benenati, of the ADEQ. “I don’t have an estimate on when it will wrap up.”

In April, before the deaths and fuel spill, there was a month-long work stoppage ordered for fire-code violations at the site.

About the Project

The Vue is a 656-unit student housing complex that will feature three multi-level townhomes, midrise urban living and typical apartments, according to the project’s website.


Tagged categories: Construction; Fatalities; Health and safety; Housing; OSHA; Regulations; Residential Construction

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (8/15/2013, 12:44 PM)

The trench collapse sounds like pure employer negligence. An untrained worker should never be in a trench like that, it must have a safe exit, and be inspected by a competent person. The incident as described in the article deserves jail time - not a small fine.

Comment from Gregory Stoner, (8/17/2013, 8:41 AM)

There has been talk of requiring a Safety Supervisor on all large projects. Someone that would have prevented all of these accidents. Though the fines may be small the lawsuits and payouts will probaly be in the millions. That could have paid for all the Safety Supervisors on all jobs throughout the state. But who wants more government intrusion in the workplace in this economy there are plenty more untrained workers where they came from.

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