Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Intro to Death By Trench Collapse

I reported last month about the death of James Randal Helton in a trench collapse. You may remember that the owner of the company claimed that "his crews were doing everything correctly."

Apparently the firefighters who recovered Helton's body came in for some criticism
Gwinnett firefighters were scolded by some workers and media last month when a 20-year-old construction worker was buried under tons of dirt in a trench collapse in Buford. Firefighters worked for seven hours before they were able to recover James Randal Helton's lifeless body. Some onlookers felt the rescuers were moving too slowly, according to Capt. David Dusik, spokesman for the Gwinnett Fire Department.
In order to impress upon people how trenches kill and safe rescue must be done, the Gwinnett Fire Department simulated trench rescue in order to educate people about trench safety.

Fire Department Spokesman Capt. David Dusik explained that
all the precautions are necessary because 60 percent of fatalities in trench rescues involve would-be rescuers. Soil that has already been disturbed is unstable, and the risk of secondary collapse must be eliminated before firefighters can risk entering a trench.
Which reminds me of a story (that I've told before, but it's my Blog, so I'll tell it again.)

A few years ago, humorist Dave Barry wrote a column making fun of OSHA for citing a company whose workers had jumped into a collapsed trench to (successfully) rescue workers from another company who had been trapped when the trench collapsed. Barry cited it as another example of government stupidity.

Although I thought the OSHA citation in this case was probably unnecessary (and was later dropped), as it was another company's employees trapped in the trench, I sent a letter to Barry defending the principle of the citation and the OSHA standard, and describing the frequency of deaths among rescuers in confined space and trenching incidents. I also enclosed some news clips and a NIOSH report. He wrote me back, replying "Yeah, well if it was your friend, I bet you'd jump in too."

Yeah Dave, and there's a good chance I'd die....

Anyway, back to the story. Dusek also made the point that each foot of soil weighs between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds, which means that
a person buried alive would lose consciousness in approximately one minute and would die within five minutes. Even those buried only partially can suffer hypothermia if the soil is too cold or be compressed so much that they later die from internal injuries.
All of which makes these guys incredibly lucky.