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Noting 2016 deaths, House OK’s bill to force contractors to list their safety violations

Nearly two years after two workers drowned in a flooded trench at a South End construction site, state lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would require companies seeking large government contracts to disclose workplace safety violations.

The bill, which passed the House Wednesday, is designed to ensure that contractors adhere to safety standards and is a response to the 2016 tragedy, said Democratic Representative Byron Rushing of Boston, the sponsor.

The measure would require any company offering goods or services worth more than $50,000 to state or local governments to disclose if it had received a citation, notice, decision, or civil judgment from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the previous four years.

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It would also require applicants for permits for trench projects — with the government or under a private contract — to disclose OSHA violations in the previous four years.

On Oct. 21, 2016, Kelvin Mattocks, 53, and Robert Higgins, 47, drowned when a construction trench filled with water because of a water main break and collapsed.

Atlantic Drain Services and its owner, Kevin Otto, were indicted on manslaughter and other charges related to the case in February 2017. Trial is scheduled for early next year.

In April 2017, a federal investigation concluded the company had violated 18 regulations on the day of the deaths and set penalties of nearly $1.5 million. The company had been cited for some of the same violations in prior years.

“If this law was in place, this company would not have been able to get their permit because of the OSHA violations they already had,” Rushing said.

After the deaths, Boston passed an ordinance that requires contractors for the city to disclose OSHA violations and for the city to deny permits to applicants with “a history of engaging in unsafe, hazardous or dangerous practices.”

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The House bill would not automatically deny contracts to those with violations, but it would make it part of the review for contract awards.

It was unclear whether the Senate planned to vote on the bill before the formal legislative session ends next Tuesday.

According to OSHA, trench work is one of the riskiest types of construction, and cave-ins can happen in seconds. About 40 trench workers are killed nationwide each year.

Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, which advocated for the legislation, said public dollars should not go to any companies endanger workers.

“There’s no reason that those who are seeking contracts or public dollars to work with Boston or Massachusetts should be able to get contracts if they’re not taking steps to makes sure safety is a priority,” Sugerman-Brozan said.


Jamie Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.