FACEValue: Construction worker killed in trench collapse

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Case report: #16KY017*
Issued by: Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program
Date of incident: May 4, 2016

A 22-year-old construction worker was assisting an excavator operator in digging a 13-foot section of a trench along a roadway. The victim entered the trench – which did not have proper cave-in protection – by running down into it to take grade measurements as instructed by the excavator operator. As the victim was taking measurements, the operator noticed soil shifting on the vertical trench wall and yelled for the victim to get out. The victim tried to jump out of the trench to escape but was buried by the collapsing soil. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene. Soil testing and a thorough inspection were not performed before beginning work, and a trench box and/or shoring supports were not on site.

To help prevent similar occurrences:

  • Use alternative methods for measuring trench grade and depth that do not require an employee to enter the trench.
  • Install adequate cave-in protection systems.
  • Ensure a competent person conducts soil testing and daily inspections of excavations, adjacent areas and protective systems.
  • Conduct daily toolbox talks that emphasize safety topics related to upcoming job tasks before allowing work to begin.
  • Employers should intervene when unsafe acts on the jobsite are witnessed.
  • Safe means of ingress and egress should be provided in all excavations before entry.

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