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Company fined $21,000 after trench cave-in

Published December 14, 2005

Federal officials have fined a Clearwater company $21,000 for failing to prevent a trench cave-in that killed an employee installing sewer lines.

B&B Professional Plumbing was cited for five "serious" violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, among them failing to inspect the trench beforehand and not securing it properly.

"The excavation had nearly vertical walls, and no protective system (shoring, sloping or shielding) was provided," according to an OSHA report provided to the Times on Tuesday.

The incident occurred May 12 behind Intrepid Powerboats Inc. on Belcher Road in Pinellas Park. Charles "Mike" Morrison, 48, of St. Petersburg, died when the walls of the 9-foot trench collapsed.

The force broke Morrison's ribs and pelvis, setting the stage for the cardiac arrest he suffered as other workers tried to free him.

Under OSHA standards, special precautions are required for trenches deeper than 5 feet. Walls must be sloped for stability, or a trench box or other bracing must be used to prevent cave-ins. Removed soil must be kept at least 2 feet from the edge of the hole. Also, the trench must be inspected daily by a "competent person" for evidence of problems.

None of those steps was taken by B&B Professional Plumbing, according to OSHA. The case was finalized last month but just recently became public on the agency's Web site.

In a letter to OSHA dated Nov. 16, company vice president Robert J. Jernigan stated, "the trench was not in accordance with OSHA standards, and Mr. Morrison should not have entered it."

Jernigan wrote another letter the following day, saying the company agreed not to do excavation work deeper than 5 feet, that employees were sent to an OSHA safety course and that a safety consultant had been hired.

Phone calls seeking comment from company officials Tuesday were not returned.

Morrison's family could not be reached, though his stepdaughter previously blamed the accident on "other people's negligence."

Alex Leary can be reached at 893-8472 or

[Last modified December 14, 2005, 00:13:09]

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