Virginia safety officials have proposed a $6,000-$7,000 fine against an Alexandria construction company for a job-site cave-in that resulted in the death of a construction worker two months ago, state officials said yesterday.
Charles G. Wicker, director of Virginia's Division of Construction Safety, said the fine against the William B. Hopke Co. Inc. was believed to be the highest ever assessed by the state in such a case. Wicker refused to disclose the precise amount of the fine.
Wicker said state investigators had found strong evidence that Hopke knew of unsafe trenching practices on the Springfield construction site, but did not correct them. The company has 15 days to appeal the proposed fine.
The Fairfax County board of supervisors, citing 14 construction-related deaths in Northern Virginia the last two years has attempted to force federal and state authorities to strengthen inspection procedures in recent weeks.
Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), a leader of the country's efforts, said yesterday the most recent fine amounted to an attempt by the state to win support for an inadequate program.
"One penalty against one company won't solve the problem," Moore said. "Unless the state procedure is changed, there is no guarantee for workers that they will be safe."
William B. Hopke Jr., president of the firm, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case.
According to Wicker, state inspectors had cited Hopke for a virtually identical safety violation only weeks before the fatal accident.
On Nov. 1, the company paid a $350 fine for allowng laborers to lay sewer pipe in a 13-foot-deep unshored trench in Reston. Later that month, George Cooper of Harpers Ferry, W. Va., died after an unsupported 16-foot-deep trench at a Hopke site in West Springfield collapsed.
"It's a prima facie case that they did know," Wicker said. "They had just paid a fine for the same thing. How could they not know?"
The proposed fine against Hopke was set according to standards of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Wicker said. A maximum of $10,000 is specified for willful safety violations which endanger the lives of workers. The precise fine is governed by such factors as the size of the company, the gravity of the violation, and the company's safety history.
"The political climate in Northern Virginia was not a factor" in setting the fine, Wicker said. "There was no effort to set an example. We would do the same thing in a case like this if it happened tomorrow."