In July of 2022, a 56 year old construction worker employed by a utility contractor was crushed when the 8 ' trench in which he was laying drainage pipe suddenly collapsed. Although the worker was extracted from the collapsed trench, he later died at the hospital from the injuries sustained. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration or OSHA immediately investigated the accident and cited the utility contractor with multiple safety violations.
OSHA noted that one cubic yard of soil (3'x3'x3') can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds - about the same a a subcompact car. Since trenches can collapse in a matter of seconds without warning, they are among the most fatal accidents in the construction industry. At the conclusion of the investigation, OSHA found that the accident resulted from failures on the part of the contractor to provide lateral support of the trench walls and emergency egress for the worker. Since the contractor already had four serious trench related incidents dating back to 2015, OSHA deemed the 2022 violations to have been willful and assessed fines against the utility contractor in the amount of $375,021.
OSHA found that the utility contractor had violated a cardinal principle of trench excavation - the "5/4/3/2/1 rule" - first in 2015, then again in 2022. A simple rule both easy to remember and easy to apply. All trenches 5' deep or greater must be provided with lateral supports, or otherwise slope back at a safe angle known as the angle of repose. All trenches 4' deep or greater must have a means of emergency egress via either a ladder or a sloped earth ramp within 25' of the exposed workers. All ladders providing the means of emergency egress must extend at least 3' above the top edge of the trench. All excavated material must be placed at least 2' back from the edge of the trench, and at least 1 competent person, properly trained in trench excavation, must be on site at all times.
OSHA observed that the trench had collapsed two previous times on the same day the fatal incident occurred, and although available, the utility contractor did not use "trench boxes" or ladders as required. OSHA concluded that "this deadly cave-in and the workers death should never have happened".
Based upon OSHA's findings that the violations were willful, the State of Connecticut filed criminal charges against the owner of the utility contractor and the backhoe operator on March 3. 2023. The owner was not present during the fatal incident, however the backhoe operator responsible for excavating the trench was present. Both men were charged with first-degree manslaughter and reckless endangerment and held upon $50,000 bail. Both face up to 20 years in State prison if convicted.
A lack of safety on your part, could not only lead to the death of others, but also the loss of your livelihood and freedom!