Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Trench Collapse: Why Ask Why?

Sometimes you don't know whether to be pissed off at the guy making the dumb quote or the reporter who just scribbles it down without any follow-up or background research.

Twenty-two year old Rafael Castillo was killed yesterday when he was crushed under tons of soil when a trench collapsed on top of him. It took rescuers 10 hours to dig out his body. He had a one year-old daughter.

This is what Rhea Cooper, deputy chief of the Lubbock Fire Department said about the trench collapse:
The cause of the collapse also is unknown, and Cooper said when trench walls cave in, the reason often is never determined.

"It's called 'trench collapse,' and it's something that happens sometimes, but we aren't sure why," he said.
Well who the hell cares "why?" (If you're truly interested in why and how, it has something to do with physics and gravity -- go dig a hole in the sand at the beach and see what happens) The important thing is not the cause of trench collapses or "why" they happen. The point is that they do happen, they happen frequently and they kill workers. And most important, there are widely recognized ways to prevent trench collapses and a clear OSHA standard detailing what must be done to prevent them.

But I never cease to be amazed at how often, after a fatal trench collapse, people (including reporters) scratch their heads as if it's just the most puzzling, freakish thing in the world.

And here's something strange: Another article contains the following quote:
Richard Tapio, Area Director of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health says that the the Utility Contractors of America has had violations. He couldn`t be more specific as to the exact violations, but he emphasized that about eight of every 10 contractors that do this type of work have some sort of violation, mostly technical and not safety-related.
Yeah, right, everyone gets citations. No big deal. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Except when you check out the OSHA web page and find that Utility Contractors of America has been inspected by OSHA five times since 2000. Why so many times. Probably has something to do with the three willfull trenching citations and $101,000 fine in 2000 (later oveturned by an administrative law judge). And in January of 2004, the company recieved a serious trenching citation and $875 fine.

Incidentally, the company claims that Castillo had been working inside a trench box, but for some reason stepped outside it just as the trench collapsed.

Suicide? Stupidity? Coincidence? Fantasy? Who knows? And we'll probably never know. OSHA is investigating, and will undoubtedly cite the company in around six months. But I'd wager this will be the last time you'll see mention of this incident in the media.