Construction Owner Died in Trench Wall Collapse, Michigan

Michigan Case Report: 14MI119


In Fall 2014 an excavating company owner in his late 50s died in a trench collapse. The decedent was performing a sanitary sewer tap to a 60-inch sewer pipe for a new home under construction. The decedent used a CAT 325BL excavator to dig a 15- to 22-foot deep, varied width trench. The decedent centered and placed the 4-foot 6-inch wide excavator bucket at the top of west wall, which was nearly vertical, apparently to provide wall support. One coworker (Coworker A) was retrieving a piece of pipe outside of the excavation when the incident occurred. Coworker B was assigned to watch the walls. The decedent entered the excavation via a ladder without installing shoring or a trench box. He was standing next to the south wall near the 60-inch sewer and before he could perform any work, the day laborer yelled for him to watch out. He could not react in time when the south (left) wall of the excavation collapsed. The day laborer called emergency response. The first responders contacted another excavating contractor working nearby and he entered the excavation. The first responders and others who had entered the excavation had uncovered the decedent’s head and arms almost to his waist when a second collapse (south wall and southwest corner) occurred and injured a first responder. Rescuers in the excavation were placing plywood and studs to shore the walls when an emergency responder noticed that clay was ready to fall in the northwest corner of the excavation. All rescue workers were ordered out of the excavation. The northwest wall’s clay eventually fell and reburied the decedent. Trench rescue teams were called and the decedent’s body was recovered from the excavation two days later.

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Page last reviewed: May 13, 2019