Trench Deaths: A Tale of Two Dakotas

Trench Dakotas

Check out the graphic on the right. What’s wrong with that picture?

Somehow workers keep dying in trench collapses.

Just last week, a California worker was buried alive under tons of soil in an unprotected 17 foot deep trench and two weeks ago an un-identified 34-year old South Dakota construction worker was crushed to death in a 10 to 15 feet deep trench.

Unfortunately, par for course in these United States. Why, I don’t know. I can’t believe there is any construction company owner in the United States that doesn’t know the dangers of unprotected trenches. And if they don’t, they should. Which should make every single one of these fatalities a willful violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and open to criminal prosecution.

In order to keep track of workplace deaths and other issues, I subscribe to several dozen Google “Alerts.” The one over on the right struck me last week.

In the North Dakota article, OSHA Assistant Area Office director Scott Overson talks about how a trench he was inspecting collapsed while he was on site and on another, less lucky occasion, where he has to assist in recovery of the body of a worker killed in a trench collapse.

Overson and OSHA have joined together in an Alliance in North Dakota to prevent trench deaths with the North Dakota Safety Council, Workforce Safety and Insurance, Associated Builders and Contractors of North Dakota, Associated General Contractors of North Dakota, Bakken Basin Safety Consortium, Energy Coalition for Contractor Safety, North Dakota One Call and the MONDAKS Safety Network.  Members of the Alliance will “provide employers and workers with information and training resources to reduce exposure to excavation-related hazards.”

Will the Alliance prevent more trench deaths? Hopefully. If there are any construction employers still out there who don’t know about the hazards of trenches or how to prevent workers from getting trapped, the Alliance — along with strong enforcement and criminal prosecutions when appropriate — will certainly help.  And even without an Alliance, every state has an OSHA-funded small business consultation program where a small construction company can get free assistance for establishing a safe trenching program, and OSHA has lots of information on its website.

As I said, no excuse.

But small construction sites are hard for OSHA to find, especially with so few inspectors. It will take a concerted effort from city managers, building inspectors, civic engineers and citizens walking by to put a stop to these unnecessary deaths.

It’s clearly something that the other Dakota should get to work on as well.

I can’t find the name of the South Dakota worker who was killed, but it’s likely he had a wife and kids at home — and parents somewhere nearby. And there’s no reason they should be going through rest of their lives without him.

UPDATE

Trench victim Douglas Olson
Douglas Olson 1984-2018

Someone just sent me the obituary of the worker, Douglas Olson, who was killed in the South Dakota trench collapse.

He loved hunting, fishing, riding 4-wheeler, camping, playing for the Shenanigan’s softball team, helping out on the Fahlberg family farm, and competing in the Titan equipment competitions.  He also loved to pheasant hunt with his dog Kenzie. On December 31, 2011 he married his beloved wife Lauren and on November 30th, 2014 they welcomed their beautiful daughter Paityn to this world. His daughter Paityn was life’s greatest blessing and even with being a girl she loved tractors, riding with her daddy in his work equipment, camping, and fishing.

What a waste.

 

OSHA Trench Collapse

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