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FACEValue: Laborer killed in trench collapse

NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Reports

Date of incident: Dec. 31 2004

A 32-year-old Hispanic laborer was killed when the side of an 8-foot trench collapsed. At the time of the incident, the victim was working as part of a five-man contractor crew excavating a concrete footing to support the concrete basement of a new single-family home. The crew leader spoke little English; three of the laborers spoke only Spanish. None of the crew workers received any training on excavations or working safely in trenches; however, the workers told OSHA investigators through an interpreter that they had been told not to enter the trench, although they occasionally did to check the firmness or remove excess dirt. While the crew leader was operating the mini-excavator, the victim jumped into the shallow end of the trench and walked to the deeper end to clear loose dirt from the floor with a shovel. The crew leader shouted at him to exit the trench when the walls began to collapse. The victim ran, but was unable to exit in time and was covered by approximately 4 feet of dirt. While someone dialed 911, crew workers began trying to dig out the victim. When the fire department arrived on the scene, they ordered workers out of the trench and began the work of installing bracing. Once braced, fire crews entered the trench and freed the victim, who was declared dead at the scene. Cause of death was listed as asphyxiation as a result of compression of the chest.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive safety program and provide training in the language and at the literacy level of workers. This includes training in hazard recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions. Employers should create a safety plan that considers the tasks performed by workers and all potential hazards related to the work. At a minimum, training needs to include hazard recognition, avoidance and abatement of these hazards.
  • Ensure only qualified rescue personnel who have assumed responsibility for rescue operations and site safety attempt a trench rescue. In this instance, no rescue plan for the site existed and untrained workers attempted to free the victim before emergency services arrived on the scene. Under no circumstances should workers ever attempt a rescue operation in a hazardous environment unless they are properly equipped and trained.

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