A construction company whose employee was killed in a trench collapse Wednesday in Prince George's County had been fined for several safety violations three years ago but remedied those problems almost immediately, Maryland officials said yesterday.
The Maryland Occupational Health and Safety Division is investigating Delmarva Site Development Inc. as part of a broader probe into the cause of Wednesday's cave-in at a Mitchellville housing construction site, which killed Ronal Jordan Perez. He was laying sewer pipe about 2 p.m. when he was buried under mounds of dirt. Rescue workers uncovered his body about 6:30 p.m.
Lana Beall, spokesperson for Delmarva Site Development in Chester, Md., said she could not comment on the collapse or the earlier safety violations because the accident investigation is underway. But she said that before Jordan Perez's death, the company "never had a recorded injury or even a workers' compensation claim."
The violations were discovered in January 2001 during a routine inspection by the occupational health and safety division of the state Department of Labor as part of an ongoing program to make sure trenches on construction sites are safe.
The inspectors found "serious" violations of two federal standards. The first requires employers to instruct their workers on how to avoid unsafe conditions, records show. The second obliges employers to provide an adequate system to protect employees in an excavation from cave-ins.
State authorities also found less serious violations of four other standards, including rules mandating that employers train workers for the dangers of hazardous chemicals on their work site and that workers wear hard hats.
Delmarva Site Development initially was fined $1,800. However, federal records indicate that the penalty was reduced to $600 within weeks because the company had corrected the violations.
Jordan Barab, a former official with the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, said that deep trenches are one of the most dangerous work environments -- with collapses causing the deaths of 53 workers nationwide in 2003. "Soil, especially wet soil, is extremely heavy," said Barab, who maintains a Web site on worker safety issues. "A cubic yard weighs as much as a small car."
Beall said she could not comment on what assistance, if any, the company would be providing Jordan Perez's family, but she offered her deepest condolences. "All I can say is I'd like to express for myself and for all our employees that it's truly a great tragedy," she said.
On Wednesday night, Jordan Perez was incorrectly identified by Prince George's County authorities as Ronald Gordan. Yesterday, Beall also corrected information about his age and marital status. He was 23, single and childless, Beall said.
Jordan Perez, a Guatemalan native, was a resident alien who had worked for the company for about seven or eight months and lived with several siblings in Hyattsville, Beall added. Two of those brothers also work for Delmarva Site Development, she said.