8:15 a.m. Police officers are called to a construction site in Des Moines, Iowa, to respond to a trench collapse. The victim, a 30-year-old male, and a few other workers were digging a trench while excavating a sewer pipe, when the walls of the trench collapsed. The trench is more than 12 feet deep and slick with thick mud. The victim is trapped and buried under the collapsed mud. Rescue efforts begin.
9:35 a.m. The fire department’s tactical team switch from rescue to recovery. The rescue crew works for hours constructing a makeshift box from plywood and hydraulic jacks, but the walls of the trench continue to re-collapse during the recovery effort.
1 p.m. Authorities call for an industrial trench box, a tool used to protect workers from cave-ins. According to the police chief, the workers didn’t seem to be using any kind of protection during their morning work. A trench box was at the site but not in use.
2:30 p.m. The victim’s body is recovered. Notification of family follows.
This death, and countless other trenching and excavation deaths, did not have to happen. Employers and employees must take responsibility for safety in excavations.
Trenches must be properly sloped, shored, or equipped with the right type of shielding, to protect workers against cave-ins.
Everyone needs to understand that when it comes to an excavation, it’s a matter of WHEN a collapse will happen, not IF one will happen.
Workers must exercise their right to refuse work that puts them in danger.
Employers must train workers on trenching and excavation safety, provide required protective measures, ensure those measures are being used, and safety procedures are enforced.