Labor Cabinet Reaches Settlement in Louisville Trench Death

A trench

Rasbak/Wikimedia Commons

An example of a trench

The Kentucky Labor Cabinet said Thursday that a Tennessee company has tentatively agreed to pay $32,000 in fines stemming from workplace safety violations at a fatal south Louisville sewer line installation job in June.

Nineteen-year-old Jonathon Moore, an employee of Josh Lefevre Construction Co. of Jackson, Tenn., died June 11 when dirt and concrete collapsed on top of him in a trench that was more than 12 feet deep. The Labor Cabinet, which enforces state occupational safety statutes, said the protective “trench box” used was inadequate at eight feet tall. It said there was no required ladder in the trench.

Lefevre Construction was initially cited for eight violations in all, resulting in fines of up to $5,600 apiece and a total of $41,600. The Labor Cabinet agreed to lower the fines as part of settlement talks. Agency spokesman Daniel Lowry said company safety initiatives were key to the agreement.

“The most important thing is that the company has made several changes in its approach to safety,” he said.

This summer, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting examined the numbers behind dangerous trench work. Before Moore’s death, Kentucky had not had a trench fatality since an April 2012 accident in Clay County. The most recent data show 70 workers were hurt on trench and ditch- and channel-digging jobs in 2013.

Lefevre, which has 30 employees, has hired a full-time safety consultant, made one employee a full-time safety coordinator, developed a written company policy on working in confined spaces, and given excavation safety training to its work crews, Lowry said.

“It’s an important lesson to construction companies that do work in excavations or trenches that an unprotected trench can quickly become a worker’s grave,” he said. “These types of fatalities involving trenches almost always can be prevented.”

As part of the settlement agreement, Lefevre will pay $2,000 per month over 16 months. The money will go into the state general fund. Lefevre can continue to do work in Kentucky, Lowry said.

An employee at Lefevre Construction in Jackson said owner Josh Lefevre had no comment on the settlement agreement.

Reporter James McNair can be reached at jmcnair@kycir.org or (502) 814.6543.

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