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OSHA to look for safety violations in fatal trench collapse

OSHA to look for safety violations in fatal trench collapse

Federal labor officials are investigating whether safety rules were violated at the residential work

Federal labor officials are investigating whether safety rules were violated at the residential work site where a 20-year-old western Massachusetts construction worker died Monday when a trench collapsed on him.

The victim was identified by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department as Brett R. Peck of Lenox, Mass., an employee of Steven Fiske Building Construction of Sand Lake.

Peck was buried alive around 10:30 a.m. Monday when he got down into a trench he had been excavating, and it collapsed.

An assistant director of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Albany regional office was at the scene Monday, and the agency is continuing its investigation.

“What we are looking for is what violations may have occurred. There are regulations on trenching and digging that have to be followed,” Edward Jerome, OSHA’s area director, said Tuesday.

The investigation could take several weeks, Jerome said.

Company owner Steven Fiske is cooperating, said his attorney, Brian Baker of Stephentown.

“He’s sent many forms and documents and spoken to [investigators] at length,” Baker said. “Steven is deeply upset by this. It’s a tragic situation.”

Fiske has been in the excavation and concrete business 14 years, Baker said, and Peck had been employed “a number of months.” The company has seven employees.

Jerome said there are OSHA rules about sloping and shoring a trench to prevent collapses that may apply to the situation. Metal devices called trench boxes are used to line the inside of a trench to prevent collapses. Any violations OSHA finds could lead to fines against the employer, Jerome said.

The incident occurred at 3 Chapel Woods Drive in the Country Knolls North development, where underground drains were being installed by Fiske Construction in preparation for an addition.

The Sheriff’s department is also investigating, but no criminal charges are expected.

Sheriff’s Investigator Tim Brown said Peck was using a small track excavator to dig a ditch that was 7 or 8 feet deep when he stopped and climbed down into the trench, apparently to inspect something he’d uncovered. The sidewalls collapsed and covered him.

The incident was not immediately noticed by a co-worker or the homeowner, and 911 was not called until about 12:30 p.m.

Manual digging by sheriff’s deputies and the Jonesville Fire Department uncovered the victim’s shoulder, and they determined he had died. Because of the risk of a second collapse due to unstable sandy soils, Brown said specialized personnel and equipment were called in from the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Glenville, the state fire training office, and the Colonie trench and urban rescue team.

It took several hours to stabilize the trench and remove Peck’s body, Brown said. Peck was taken to Saratoga Hospital for an autopsy, where an examination determined he died of asphyxiation, said county coroner John DeMartino.

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