Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 99-02, 1999 Oct; :1-9
On February 27, 1999, a 17-year-old male laborer (the victim) died after one of the unprotected walls (no shoring, shielding or sloping) of the trench he was working in collapsed, striking him and covering him with soil. On the day of the incident, the employer, his sons, ages 17 and 10, and the victim were working on a sewer installation project on private property in an apartment complex. Shortly before the incident, the employer parked his backhoe next to the trench and left with his older son to get a backhoe with a smaller bucket. The victim remained in the trench leveling the soil in preparation for laying sewer pipe. The 10-year-old boy remained at the site to watch the victim and to be available to get help if anything went wrong. Shortly after his father left, the 10-year -old boy called several warnings to the victim as he saw soil caving in from the trench walls. Minutes later he called a warning when he saw a large section of trench wall breaking loose and beginning to fall. The section struck the victim before he had an opportunity to move and completely covered him. The boy called out to the victim several time and, hearing no response, ran to the apartment complex for help. One resident called 911, while a second ran to the trench. When the apartment residents arrived at the trench, they observed the soil pile at the bottom of the trench but could not see the victim. Realizing that the trench walls remained unstable and hazardous, they warned others to keep out of the trench and waited for the police who arrived approximately 3 minutes later. A police officer entered the trench and saw the victim through a 2 to 3-inch gap between the fallen section of earth and the trench wall. He was unable to detect any sound or movement from the victim. Police and Fire Department personnel, after evaluating the incident scene, determined that this was a body recovery operation, not emergency rescue. They summoned a specially trained Technical Rescue Team (TRT) from another fire department to direct recovery operations. The victim's body was recovered approximately 10.5 hours following the incident and taken to the local morgue for autopsy. NIOSH investigators concluded that, to prevent similar occurrences, employers should: know and comply with child labor laws, ensure that workers are protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system, ensure that equipment is moved away from open trenches when not in use, provide workers with adequate access and egress systems, ensure that a competent person conducts dial inspection of excavations and adjacent areas, and provide workers with training in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions.