Safety Tips FACE Reports

FACEValue: Plumber dies after trench wall collapse

Case report: #07NY033*
Issued by: New York State Department of Health
Date of incident: May 2007

A plumbing contractor died after an unprotected trench he was working in collapsed. The victim was an independent plumber subcontracted to install a sewer line connection to the sewer main for a single-family residence. On the day of the incident, workers observed the victim walking toward the residence as they initiated their lunch break. When the victim did not come back for his lunch or answer his cell phone, the general contractor and workers began searching for him. The excavation contractor saw that a portion of the trench had collapsed where the victim was installing a sewer tap. The victim was found trapped in the trench under a large slab of asphalt, rock and soil. Emergency medical services arrived within minutes but could not revive the victim. The victim’s body was recovered from the trench four hours after the incident, and he was pronounced dead at the site.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Require all employees working in trenches 5 feet or more in depth to be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protection system.
  • Require a competent person to conduct daily inspections of excavations and adjacent areas.
  • Ensure all employees and subcontractors have been properly trained to recognize excavation and trenching hazards.
  • On a multi-employer worksite, the general contractor should be responsible for coordinating high-hazard work activities such as excavation and trenching.
  • All employees should be protected from electrical hazards in trenches.
  • Law enforcement and EMS personnel should be trained in trench rescue procedures.
  • Local governing bodies and codes enforcement officers should consider requiring building permit applicants to certify that they will follow written excavation and trenching plans in accordance with applicable standards and regulations – for any projects involving excavation and trenching work – before the building permits can be approved.

*This report is the product of NIOSH’s Cooperative State partner. The findings and conclusions in each report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of NIOSH.

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