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Buckeye trench company with deadly accident had history of safety problems

west valley trench collapse
Posted at 5:41 PM, Apr 06, 2023

PHOENIX — An Arizona company that employed two men who died in a trench collapse has a history of safety violations.

Records show state regulators cited the company, Construction Specification Solutions, for multiple safety violations over two years. The fines totaled less than $10,000, according to documents from the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or ADOSH, which oversees state worker safety.

Families of the men who died say the low fines are an example of why the state needs to reform its worker-safety program.

“Two people, two genuine, loving, caring men passed away on that day, and no one was held responsible,” said Deanna Mori, whose brother Rudy Mori, died along with co-worker Alex Quaresma. “Did they get fined? Absolutely. Was it a large amount? No,” she said.

Thirty-three-year-old Mori and 36-year-old Quaresma were pipelayers, digging for a sewer line at a housing development in west Phoenix in the summer of 2020. The sides of the trench collapsed, burying them. A police officer tried to dig them out but couldn’t save them.

The men worked for Construction Specification Solutions, a privately owned Arizona company that installs underground utilities for housing.

In October 2019, nine months prior to when the men died, records show ADOSH inspected a different worksite operated by Construction Specification Solutions in Surprise.

ADOSH stated the company failed to follow safety standards when constructing a five-foot-deep trench and failed to train an employee to recognize unsafe conditions. ADOSH gave the company two serious safety citations and one non-serious citation along with a fine of $1,800.

This was later reduced to $1,260 as part of an informal settlement between ADOSH and the company, according to ADOSH records.

To check whether a company has a history of worker-safety fines within the last five years, go to the OSHA Establishment Search.

Then in July 2020, a trench caved in at a different worksite, killing Mori and Quaresma.

Afterward, an ADOSH inspection found the company failed to have an adequate protective system in place on the 10-foot-deep trench. It also didn’t train workers to recognize unsafe conditions, according to an ADOSH investigation.

The company got four serious safety citations in connection with the fatality inspection. But because it was a small company with fewer than 20 employees, the company’s fine was reduced from $20,000 to $8,000.

ADOSH also didn’t classify one citation – failure to train employees to recognize unsafe conditions – as a “repeat” safety violation; the company received a similar citation at the Surprise worksite. Doing so would have subjected the company to steeper fines.

ABC15 asked ADOSH why there wasn’t a repeated citation in the case where the men died.

ADOSH, in a statement, said “an error” prevented the citation in the file from being identified as a repeated citation.

Quaresma’s loved ones had no idea ADOSH had previously fined the company until the ABC15 Investigators showed them the records this year.

"Someone definitely dropped the ball,” said Tara Macon, Quaresma’s fiancée.

Credit: Tara Macon

The company’s history of safety violations also appeared to come as a surprise to Dale Schultz, chairman of the Industrial Commission of Arizona, which oversees ADOSH.

When the ABC15 Investigators asked him why none of the citations were listed as repeats, Schultz said he didn’t know. He said he would need more information before he could investigate further.

RELATED: Industrial Commission of Arizona plans to increase workplace inspections

Peter Dooley, a Tucson safety consultant who has followed ADOSH for two decades, said he is shocked by the lack of oversight.

"That’s obviously blatant neglect on the part of the agency not to be using those previous violations in citations,” said Dooley, who works with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

Dooley said low fines send a bad message to companies, families, and the community.

“Here’s two tragic lives that are lost,” he said.

After the deaths, Construction Specification Solutions sent documentation to ADOSH, stating it retrained employees and held safety meetings. John Wittwer, an attorney for the company, declined to comment because of pending litigation. 

In October 2021, ADOSH cited the company for a third time.

An ADOSH inspection of a company worksite in Surprise found an improperly constructed trench. An inspector said he saw two employees working in a six-foot-deep trench without a protective system installed.

ADOSH issued the company one serious citation and a fine of $1,500. Records show the company contested the citation. Months later, ADOSH agreed to settle with the company. The citation was deleted and the fine was reduced to zero.

Credit: Mori family

Families of the men who died say they hope the state will overhaul Arizona’s worker-safety program. They want to see more inspections and higher fines. They also want the governor to appoint new commissioners to the Industrial Commission.

“Everyone has a right to come in and work and make a decent living and leave in the same manner that they came in,” said Macon.

States that operate their own worker-safety programs, such as Arizona, are required to adopt fines that are “at least as effective” as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA had asked Arizona to raise its fines for several years, but ADOSH officials said they couldn’t raise fines without a change in state law. Last year, a new state law was passed that allowed ADOSH to raise its maximum fines to match federal ones.

The current OSHA maximum fines for serious safety violations are $15,625 per violation and $156,259 for a repeated violation. But OSHA also allows for reductions – depending on the circumstances – for small companies and employers that show a “good-faith” effort toward fixing violations.

Schultz said the commission is committed to following state law and OSHA directions.

“I feel very, very comfortable saying to any and all: ‘We do our job.’"

Email ABC15 Investigator Anne Ryman at anne.ryman@abc15.com, call her at 602-685-6345, or connect on Twitter and Facebook