And speaking of trench collapses…
We wrote earlier this year about the tragic death of 25 year old Zachary Hess, a JK Excavating employee who was buried alive in a 25 foot deep trench, and the fact that OSHA had cited the company before for trenching violations.
A former Department of Labor colleague sent me a news report of that tragedy that I had missed. The heartbreaking part is where Hess actually made a Snapchat video of the sorry condition of the trench he was about to die in.
Hess’s mother, Cindy, has been speaking about her son’s death. (You can see her speaking at a Workers Memorial Day event here and for a Turner Construction event here.) She’s made it her mission to ensure that these tragedies never happen to any one else’s son.
The interesting part of her statement is her realization that 100% of trench collapses are preventable — so why did her son go 25 feet down into a trench that he undoubtedly knew was dangerous? This is a question that often arises with trench collapses. Why didn’t the worker just refuse to do the job?
Sometimes workers probably don’t know that the trench could kill them or that the law was being violated. Maybe they’d worked down in similar trenches before and nothing bad had happened. And the boss had said not to worry. And other experienced employees would go down in deep unprotected trenches so how dangerous could it be? And some have families to support and can’t afford to risk losing their job. And anyway, some think, “If the trench collapses, someone can just dig me out.”
Cindy Hess ascribes her son’s willingness to go into the trench to his strong work ethic and his love for the job. They were behind schedule on this project and he was proud that the company counted on him to do the hard jobs. And he was young and full of life and invincible.
After Hess’s death, Daniel Wood, JK Excavating safety specialist, stated that “On behalf of JK Excavating, on Thursday December 28 we did not just lose an employee in this tragic incident, we lost a family member!”
Well, maybe. But that’s not the way anyone would treat their family members. You don’t put them in dangerous situations. You don’t send them to their death. You take responsibility for safety on the job. You train your employees about the hazards. You learn from previous OSHA citations. You make sure the workplace is safe. Period.
And if anyone is inclined to job on down into a 25 foot-deep trench because the job is behind schedule and he wants to impress the boss or help the company or show how tough he is, you stop him. Just as if it was your own kid.
Because you’re family, right?