Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Wednesday, June 30, 2004


An Infuriatingly Preventable Trench Death

So here we have yet another worker crushed in yet another trench collapse that, yet again, was twice as deep as OSHA allows without shoring.
A construction crew installing storm drains in Washington County was not using suggested safety precautions when a trench wall collapsed Tuesday, killing one worker and injuring another, rescue workers and township officials said.

William Partin, 39, of Hoffman Drive, North Fayette, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to North Franklin police.
These tragedies always make me mad. This one makes even more angry. Why?
[Washington City Fire Department duty captain Douglas] Trbovich said that he saw a trench box about 100 yards away from the accident site.

Township Supervisor Carole Beck and township administrator Scott Novak, who both visited the scene, agreed that the trench box was not being used.

Novak said since the project began about five weeks ago, the township's quality-control inspector has made repeated suggestions to workers and company officials to use the trench box.

"You really have to ask them why they haven't been using it. They've been advised to, but for whatever reason they decided not to," Novak said.

Novak added that the township inspector is not a safety officer and has no authority to order the company to take any safety measures.
So the township's quality control inspector knew for five weeks that the trench box wasn't being used presenting a potentially deadly situation, but didn't do anything because he isn't a safety officer?! How about calling OSHA? (The toll-free number, by the way, is (800) 321-OSHA and local numbers can be found here.)

And I have a very hard time understanding why, if this was a city contract, there was no one in the city government who had the authority (or who took the initiative) to shut down a project that was clearly putting workers at imminent risk of death.

In fact, it might be useful for OSHA to educate city and county officials about recognizing such hazards and making sure someone close to the job is authorized to shut it down, or at to least refer the problem to OSHA.

William Partin should still be alive.


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