City faces $12K in penalties after employee death

Published: Jul. 21, 2015 at 7:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2015 at 1:12 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Two City of Columbia departments are facing $12,000 in fines for six serious violations after a public works employee died earlier this year.

Marvis Myers, 31, died Feb. 6 when he and another employee were working in a 7-foot wide, 22-foot long trench at the corner of Pulaski and College streets in Columbia to repair a sewer main line. Myers was using a shovel to spread out gravel stones under the sewer line, which was cracked and seeping sewage into the ground. When Myers was walking in the trench to a ladder, the side of the trench wall caved-in, pinning him against the other trench wall, according to an investigative summary from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Myers was surrounded with the dirt from his chest to his feet, and a 4-inch thick piece of asphalt also fell on his back.

After being rescued, Myers was transported to Palmetto Health Richland, where he later died from his injuries. The OSHA report said Myers suffered traumatic asphyxia from being entrapped after the cave-in for 25 minutes; and blunt trauma to his trunk with multiple rib fractures with bleeding, lung contusions and multiple pelvic fractures.

OSHA gave the Public Safety department two serious violations, totaling $2,000 in fines, for failing to furnish a place of employment that is free of hazards that may cause death or serious harm. These violations came as a result of the actions taken by the Columbia Fire Department during its rescue efforts, according to a spokeswoman with the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. OSHA explained the trench should not have been entered without testing the atmosphere to make sure it was safe since the sewer line was exposed and there was no protection system in place to prevent cave-ins.

The Public Utilities department was given four serious violations, totaling $10,000. Three of the violations - $1,000 each - are also for not testing the atmosphere before employees entered the trench since there could be an oxygen deficiency; not protecting employees from materials that could pose a risk of falling; and failing to remove employees from a hazardous area until necessary precautions were taken to ensure safety.

The fourth violation comes with a $7,000 fine for not protecting each employee from cave-ins by using a protection system. Since the excavation was not on stable rock and greater than 5-feet deep, a protective system should have been in place, the report explained.

The City has requested an informal conference to discuss the violations and penalties. No date has been set for that conference as of this report. The City will have to pay the fines after the conference is held.

WIS reached out to city officials for a comment, but the request was denied.

"At this time, this process is still ongoing; therefore, the City of Columbia does not wish to provide a statement at this juncture," said Pamela Benjamin, Human Resources director.

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