IR #2012-28
June 12, 2012

Dean Fryer
Erika Monterroza
(510) 286-1161

Twitter @CA_DIR

Cal/OSHA Cites Employer Responsible for Worker Killed in Milpitas Excavation Collapse

Oakland —The California Department of Industrial Relations’ (DIR) Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, today issued ­­­­­fourteen citations totaling $168,175 to a Fremont-based construction and investment company, US-Sino Investments, Inc.  The citations stemmed from Cal/OSHA’s investigation into the death of Raul Zapata, a 37-year-old carpenter who was buried alive under a ten-to-twelve foot excavation wall at a Milpitas residential construction site on January 28.  US-Sino is cited for numerous serious and willful violations of Cal/OSHA’s safety standards.

“Worksite regulations are in place to keep workers safe – this completely preventable death is a vivid reminder of what can happen when those regulations are ignored,” said DIR Director Christine Baker.  “All California workers have a right to a safe work environment.”

“Cal/OSHA’s investigation into this death revealed US-Sino’s disregard for the safety of its workers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess.  “The City of Milpitas had issued a stop work order three days before the incident due to unstable ground, yet this employer continued work and knowingly put workers at risk with a tragic result.”

Following several days of rainfall, Raul Zapata had been working at the base of the excavation wall at a residential construction site on January 28 when the wall collapsed on top of him. He was pronounced dead at the scene.  The excavation wall that gave way had no soil support system installed as required by Cal/OSHA’s trenching and excavation regulations.  California law also requires an annual or project-specific permit for any work that involves a trench or excavation wall exceeding five feet in depth into which workers may be lowered. US-Sino did not obtain such a permit.  The instability of the soil and risk of further cave-in prevented rescuers from recovering Mr. Zapata’s body for several days.

Cal/OSHA’s investigation revealed other serious safety violations at US-Sino’s worksite.  Exposed rebar was found on the site without proper safety caps, which posed safety hazards to workers.  The employer failed to inspect the excavation daily, as required, or inform new workers of the hazards and safety precautions necessary for this work.   They had no injury and illness prevention plan or heat illness prevention plan in place, nor any communication plan in place to alert authorities or first responders in the event of an emergency such as this excavation cave in.

The citations Cal/OSHA issued include five classified as serious, two of which were willful, and several general and regulatory citations. Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations (BOI), which investigates fatalities and other serious injuries, has an ongoing criminal investigation.

“We think this case is particularly appropriate for criminal referral based on the egregious facts leading to the worker’s death,” said Widess.

Cal/OSHA immediately referred this employer to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) and DIR’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) for further enforcement action.  CSLB suspended the general building contractor license of US-Sino and its owner Richard Liu upon determining that the employer failed to provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees as required by law.  DLSE’s investigation is ongoing.

Cal/OSHA issues citations for violations which affect the safety or health of employees. A willful violation is issued when an employer either: commits an intentional violation and is aware that it violates a safety law, or when an employer is aware that an unsafe or hazardous condition exists and makes no reasonable effort to eliminate the hazard.  A serious violation is cited when there is a reasonable possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the actual hazard created by the violation. A general violation is one in which an accident or illness may result but would probably not cause death or serious harm.

Employers who want to learn more about Cal/OSHA and how to reduce workplace injuries can get information at the DIR Web site at For assistance from the Cal/OSHA Consultation Program on hazards such as un-shored trenches and excavations, employers can call (800) 963-9424.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints can call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at (866) 924-9757.

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