As we pass the midpoint of 2022, we may be headed to a new record for trench collapse fatalities. Dare we call it an epidemic of trench fatalities?

And that makes it time for my monthly   rant about preventable trench collapses.

According to my calculations, 21 people have died already this year in trench collapses, which equals the full year toll in 2019 and 2020. 5 incidents have been double fatalities. “In comparison, 11 workers reportedly died during the same period in 2021, and 12 workers in 2020, according to data compiled by Equipment World from media reports and online searches of U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration investigations.”

According to Equipment World and OSHA statistics, an average of 20 workers died in trenches each year between 2011 and 2021.  In each of the years 2020 and 2019 OSHA documented 21 deaths and injuries, and only 17 in 2018. There were 35 trench deaths in 2016. 

A CPWR survey several years ago of employers, including foremen and supervisors, workers, safety and health professionals, trainers and other construction stakeholders about trench safety had some upsetting results:

  • About 75 percent of respondents said they see no trench protection in place “Frequently” or “Occasionally.”
  • Only 1 in 4 respondents said there was “Always” sufficient pre-planning for trench work. About 1 in 3 said sufficient pre-planning happened “Occasionally.”
  • Only 37 percent of those surveyed said there was “Always” a competent person on site. Having a designated competent person on site is a major requirement of OSHA’s trench standard.
  • About half of those surveyed have refused to enter an unsafe trench at some point during their career.
  • One third of those surveyed said they have witnessed, been involved in or inspected a trench collapse.

And kudos to the National Utility Contractors Association, in partnership with OSHA, for declaring June “Trench Safety Month.”  But it seems that those contractors who need it most are not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn how not to kill their workers.

Trench Safety MonthAs you can see from the short excerpts below weren’t even close to the 5-foot deep level where OSHA requires a trench to be shored or a trench box used. One trench was 24 feet deep, another 20 and another 19 feet deep.

The Toll of Trench Collapses

July 4, 2022: Washington trench collapse in Shoreline, WA, kills 2 workers

Shoreline, WA — Two workers were killed after a trench collapsed in Shoreline and the slope was too unstable to recover their bodies Monday so efforts will resume Tuesday. “It was on a very steep slope. It’s just an unstable surface for us to continue,” Michelle Pidduck with the Shoreline Fire Department said Monday night. Washington State Labor and Industries officials were dispatched to the scene. Pidduck said the men were private employees but she did not know who hired them. Recent permitting records with the city show that a resident was replacing part of a collapsed side sewer on private property.

July 5, 2022: Worker killed in trench collapse at housing development near Albemarle

STANLY COUNTY, N.C. — A construction worker at a housing development near Albemarle is dead after a trench collapsed Tuesday morning, according to authorities in Stanly County. The incident happened a little after 8:30 a.m. at a construction area near Hatley Farm Road, which is northeast of Charlotte. Stanly County Emergency Services Director Michael Roark told Channel 9 that the crew member was working in the trench when it collapsed. The worker was trapped, but died from their injuries.

June 28, 2022: Bodies of 2 men recovered following trench collapse in Jarrell

Jarrell, TX — Emergency crews on Wednesday recovered the bodies of two men from a collapsed trench in Jarrell. The bodies of two men who died in the collapse of a sewer line trench in Jarrell on Tuesday were recovered early Wednesday morning, officials said. Their identities are not yet being released because some of their relatives live out of the country. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Williamson County sheriff’s office are investigating the cause of the accident. The body of the first man was located at 4:10 a.m., said Mark McAdams, chief officer with Emergency Services District #5, also known as the Jarrell Fire Department. The body of the second man was located at 7:18 a.m., McAdams said at a news conference on Wednesday in Jarrell. The trench was more than 24 feet deep and 2 feet wide.

June 24, 2022: Construction worker dies after falling into trench in Sun Valley

Sun Valley, CA — A man lost his life on Friday after falling into a construction trench in Sun Valley. When Los Angeles Fire Department first responders arrived to the construction site at the 8405 block of N. Glenoaks Boulevard, they found the patient unresponsive and pronounced him deceased at the scene. The man was not an employee of the City of Los Angeles, according to LA Fire. LA Fire’s initial report stated that there was debris up to the man’s chest, when paramedics and rescue operations arrived. The rescue was also originally reported as a confined space rescue but was eventually changed to a trench rescue. The identity of the man has not been released.

June 24, 2022: Construction worker dies in McKinney accident

McKinney, TX — A construction worker died in an accident Friday morning in McKinney, Collin County authorities said. Investigators were called about 9:40 a.m. to the work site near FM543 and County Road 202, where a sewer-line trench had caved in. The Collin County Sheriff’s Office identified the victim as 41-year-old Paulin Sanchez. The sheriff’s office and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are continuing to investigate but do not suspect foul play.

June 24, 2022: Man dead after trench collapses on him in Cleves

CLEVES, Ohio — One man is dead after a trench collapsed in on him at a home under construction in Cleves. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office said deputies responded to a house on Foxpoint Ridge Friday afternoon alongside the Miami Township Fire Department following a report of a man stuck in a hole. When they arrived, the sheriff’s office said it appears 56-year-old Mark Hines entered a trench he had been digging with an excavator while working on the construction site. It is not known why Hines entered the trench, but officials said the trench collapsed in on him. He was found by a Metropolitan Sewer District employee who arrived to inspect the property.

June 18, 2022: Emergency responders recover body of worker killed in Brighton trench collapse

Denver, CO — Authorities received a 911 call about the collapse on Peregrine Drive, according to police. Work was being done on a sewer line when the trench collapsed, according to the fire department. Trench rescue experts from several agencies attempted to free the 35-year-old worker. At about 5:15 p.m., his body was recovered. Police and firefighters are working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on the investigation. Multiple fire departments in the north metro area responded. “Our hearts are with the victim’s family,” police said on Twitter. The worker was not identified Saturday.

June 17, 2022: Two workers killed after construction trench collapses in St. Paul

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two workers, Bob Brandtjen and 66 year old Jeff Jeanetta, were killed Friday afternoon when a construction trench collapsed in St. Paul. The St. Paul Fire Department says the collapse happened around 3 p.m. in a construction zone on the 700 block of Mount Curve Boulevard, near the Mississippi River in the Highland Park neighborhood. While fire crews responded quickly to the scene, it was too late to secure the trench and save the workers who’d been buried underground. “We feel horrible for the victims when anything like this happens,” said Assistant Fire Chief Matt Simpson. “We train for this every single day … Unfortunately, time was not on our side to make that difference today.” Lahens St. Fleur watched as dozens of first-responders flooded the street near his home. He and others were heartbroken for the workers and their families. “I’m just very, very sad that this happened,” he said. “My heart really goes out to those people.” Fire officials say that the first victim was recovered around 9:30 p.m., and the second at 2:30 a.m.

May 10, 2022: Two dead in collapsed trench

PUNTA GORDA, FL — Charlotte County Fire and EMS responded to a collapsed trench that trapped and killed two construction workers Monday afternoon. The collapse happened on Burnt Store Road near Notre Dame Boulevard, according to Fire Public Information Officer Todd Dunn. 41-year-old Marcos Santiz-Lopez and 25-year-old Brandon M. Colburn were killed when the trench gave way at the construction site. Crews quickly found one of the men dead and continued to search for the other. Both north and southbound lanes of Burnt Store Road were closed while emergency crews conducted a recovery operation. “We’ve got a special operations crew here with the other rescue crew,” Dunn told The Daily Sun early Monday evening while emergency crews were still trying to locate the second worker. “What they are going to do now is to shore up the trench to make sure it doesn’t collapse any farther. That way we can recover the one victim and hopefully find the second victim.” But Dunn confirmed around 9 p.m. that the second victim had died. The victims worked for a private contractor hired to lay down utility lines to provide reclaimed water for the Tuckers Point subdivision, according to Charlotte County spokesperson Brian Gleason.

April 29, 2022: 2 Alto men killed in trench collapse

LOWELL TOWNSHIP, Mich. —Two Alto men were killed after a trench collapsed Friday evening. It happened just after 8:30 p.m. on 60th Street between Morse Lake Avenue and Timpson Avenue in Lowell Township. According to the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, two men were found dead under a 14-foot trench that was being dug for drainage where a pole barn was being built. According to police, the bodies of the two men were recovered after 2 a.m. The Bowne Township Fire Department identified the deceased men as Pete Bencker, 59, and Ron Bencker, 68, both from Alto.

April 21, 2022:  One man killed, another injured in trench collapse

BOISE, Idaho — One man was killed and another injured in a trench collapse on April 21, in Canyon County. According to the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, the incident happened around 11:15 on Linden, west of Middleton Road. A 22-year-old man from New Plymouth was rescued and transported to a nearby hospital, sustaining lower-body injuries. A 23-year-old man from Seaside, Oregon was buried in the collapse and was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of the collapse is still unclear at this point. OSHA has opened an investigation into the incident.

April 16, 2022: Construction Worker Dies in Trench Collapse in Tennessee

SPRING CITY, Tenn. (AP) — A construction worker died after he was trapped in a trench that collapsed while he was working on a home in Tennessee, authorities said. The man, who was not identified, was working in the garage of a home under construction when a trench dug as part of the project collapsed Saturday afternoon in Rhea County, said Det. Rocky Potter, a spokesman for the county sheriff’s department. Rescue crews from Chattanooga, Knox County and other jurisdictions were called in to help with a rescue attempt. Crews dug with hand tools such as shovels because there was no room in the garage for mechanized equipment, Potter said. Inside a gated community of Rivermyst in Spring City first responders worked into early Sunday morning to rescue Armando Saldana Lemus, but say he didn’t survive. Lemus, who worked for A To Z Tn Property Solutions Inc., was found dead at about 1 a.m. on Sunday, Potter said. Seventy to 100 rescue workers and members of law enforcement and fire departments worked on the scene of the rescue attempt, Potter said.

March 31, 2022: Worker dies in trench collapse in northwest Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV — A construction worker was killed when a trench collapsed in northwest Las Vegas on Thursday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration confirmed. First responders worked for nearly five hours to recover the body of Rigoberto Canas Ramos, 32 at a construction site near Kyle Canyon Road and Oso Blanca Road. OSHA is investigating the collapse, but a spokesperson for the agency could not share additional details due to confidentiality requirements. The company was Kb Home Las Vegas Inc.

February 27, 2022: Worker dies after ground collapses near newly dug trench in Shelby County

SHELBY COUNTY, Ind. — A man is dead after he became trapped in a ditch while working in Shelby County on Sunday afternoon. According to Indianapolis Fire officials, workers from HIS Contractors had recently dug a 40-foot long and 6-foot wide hole in the 12105 block of E. McGregor near the Shelby and Marion county line. Officials say the project supervisor, Timothy Harness, was standing on the edge of the trench when the ground collapsed underneath him. The 54-year-old fell into the hole, with mud and debris falling on top of him. Several other workers jumped in and tried to rescue him, but were unable to due to the soil being unstable. Firefighters soon responded and after working for several hours, found the man about 19 feet into the trench. Indiana OSHA issued no violations.

January 29, 2022: Contract worker dies following trench collapse on Sand Island

HONOLULU, HI – A contract worker has died following a trench collapse on Sand Island Access Road, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Officials said the incident happened around 10 a.m. Saturday at a construction site behind a baseball field.  The accident killed a 23-year-old Waianae man. The medical examiner identified the victim as Trevor Alvarado.  Hawaii OSHA issued 5 serious violations against Peterson Bros Construction Inc. for a total penalty of $72,510, later reduced to $65,259.

January 11, 2022: Coroner identifies construction worker killed in accident

JACKSON, Miss. – Emergency crews recovered a body after a construction accident in Jackson. The incident occurred on Stonewall and Livingston Road in Jackson at the development site of The Village at Livingston. Assistant Fire Chief Patrick Armon says he was first contacted about the accident around 5:45 p.m. but says it may have happened before then. According to Cleotha Sanders, Division Fire Chief with the Jackson Fire Department, workers were doing dirt work and one of them became trapped 20 feet below ground. Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham Stewart identified the worker as 33-year-old Matthew Miller. Miller worked for MCA Construction, Inc

One thought on “Epidemic of Trench Deaths in First Half of 2022”
  1. -What percentage of these historical fatalities involved employers with 10 or fewer employees?
    -What percentage of these fatalities took place in residential settings, ie new home/apartment construction?
    -What percentage of these fatalities involved employers contracted by the public sector?
    -What percentage of these fatalities took place on jobs that were being actively supervised by a competent person?
    -What percentage of these fatalities involved employees who had been reasonably trained on the hazards of excavations?
    -What percentage of these fatalities involved employees who knowingly disregarded safety controls defined and made available by their employees?
    If we cannot answer questions such as these, I would offer that we truly do not understand the problem. And without understanding the problem, we are simply guessing at solutions. There seems to be an assumption that construction companies are THE problem. No doubt they are part of the problem, but how much? How about the entities that hire them and subtly pressure them to cut corners to keeps costs down?
    Considering the number of excavations that take place each year, the number of deaths is not that astounding. That may not be politically correct to say, but in a country where over 100 people die per day due to gun violence…
    We have people in this country with relatively little engineering knowledge managing highly technical tasks, ie excavations, scaffolding, steel erection, rigging. Not that one needs an engineering degree to do such things, but in my 30+ years of doing this stuff, I’ve observed countless numbers of “competent” and “qualified” people who didn’t have a clue. If anyone thinks they understand excavation safety, pick up a book on soil physics and be prepared to get lost very quickly. It is a highly technical field, yet I have seen safety professionals and engineers make completely subjective, “seat of their pants” judgment calls concerning excavations. If they don’t know when they are in over their heads, why should we be surprised when some blue collar fellow who runs a tiny construction outfit makes a bet and guesses wrong.

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