The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed a $1.35-million fine against construction companies owned by a Massachusetts contractor, alleging multiple willful, repeat and serious safety violations related to what OSHA’s top official called a “horrific” February jobsite accident in which two workers were killed.

OSHA, which is part of the Dept. of Labor, announced Aug. 18 it had proposed fines against Atlantic Coast Utilities LLC/Advanced Utilities Inc. of Boston and its successor companies, including Sterling Excavation LLC, for 28 alleged safety and health violations.

The companies are owned by Laurence Moloney, according to OSHA.

OSHA said the companies' alleged violations include what it termed the refusal to train the workers to recognize and avoid jobsite hazards and a failure to inspect the jobsite to identify and correct hazards.

The accident occurred on Feb. 24 at a sewer repair site on High Street in downtown Boston. OSHA said the workers—Jordy Alexander Castaneda Romero, 27, and Juan Carlos Figueroa, 33—died after a dump truck backed up and struck and pushed them into a 9-ft-deep trench.

[View 2/24/2021 ENR story here.]

James Frederick, DOL’s acting assistant secretary for safety and health, told reporters in an Aug. 18 conference call the incident was "horrific and preventable."

Frederick said Moloney “has an extensive history of violating OSHA standards, dating as far back as 2001.” He added, “For two decades Moloney has knowingly disregarded his responsibility to assure the safety and health of his workers."

He said, "Instead of correcting the violations he has been cited for, and paying the penalties, he closes the business and reopens under…a different name.”

Jeffrey Erskine, OSHA regional director in Boston, said that between 2001 and 2019, OSHA inspected Moloney's companies six times, which resulted in 14 safety citations.

Before the February accident, OSHA had cited Moloney's companies with proposed fines totaling $81,242, of which $73,542 is unpaid and has been referred to debt collection.

Erskine said there were no other fatalities at the companies' jobsites.

Agency officials said this is the first instance under the Biden administration of OSHA's alleging "egregious" violations.

Such violations are categorized as willful and are issued on an instance-by-instance basis for the number of employees exposed to a particular hazard. in this case, there were six employees, and thus six citations. Each citation has a maximum proposed penalty of $136,532, according to OSHA.

The companies have 15 days to comply with the penalties, request a conference with OSHA's regional director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA also said that on Aug. 13 it opened a separate investigation of Sterling Excavation LLC, which it identifies as a successor company to Atlantic Coast Utilities. That action comes in response to a complaint of excavation hazards at a site in East Boston, the agency said.  “That inspection is ongoing,” OSHA added.

DOL’s Wage and Hour Division also is investigating Atlantic Coast Utilities for “possible violations of federal wage law,” according to DOL.

ENR phoned Atlantic Coast Utilities to seek a comment or statement regarding the OSHA action, but the voice mailbox was full.

The Suffolk County District Attorney's office also is investigating the fatalities. DA Rachael Rollins said in a statement, "The criminal investigation into these deaths by my office remains active and ongoing."