The U.S. Dept. of Labor has proposed $201,600 in penalties against O’Neill, Neb.-based John Prouty Construction, Inc., for alleged safety violations related to a Sept. 12, 2008 trench collapse that killed four workers.

The accident occurred near Verdel, Neb., and caused a chain reaction of fatalities. The four workers died after the trench collapsed and one of the workers, Travis Lunn, 24, of O’Neill, fell into the trench. Three of Lunn’s coworkers tried to rescue him and were caught in the trench. Also killed were David Peterson, 35, of O’Neill; Gary Forsch, 61, of Spencer, Neb.; and Brad Kelly, 43, of Lynch, Neb. Verdel is a town of about 60 residents that is just south of the South Dakota state line.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation of the accident site found three alleged willful violations and two alleged serious violations. Charles Adkins, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City, Mo., says there is no excuse for the accident and the workers did not need to lose their lives.

“It is appalling to realize there are companies that would allow, or even require, their employees to enter excavations without having cave-in protection,” says Adkins in a prepared statement. “It is imperative that companies take the necessary steps to eliminate hazards and provide a safe working environment for all of their employees, to prevent accidents like this.”

OSHA charges that the excavation contractor failed to instruct employees in recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions when working in a trench. OSHA also claims the contractor failed to keep a cave-in protection system. Also, excavated spoils and other equipment were not kept two feet from the trench edge.

The alleged serious violations are for failing to use protective helmets where an overhead hazard existed, as well as for failure to provide safe access and egress from a trench deeper than four feet.

John Prouty Construction has contested the penalties. The company declined to comment for this story.