COLUMBUS, Ga. –Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials continue to investigate the collapse of a construction trench at an apartment complex that killed two workers last week.
James Jackson, 50, and Allen Thomas, 46, died when the walls of a trench they and four other men were working in caved in and buried them under tons of dirt. The men, who were related, worked for Allen Development Group, which is performing excavation work for an expansion project underway at Summit Pointe Apartments in Columbus.
The four men who survived the cave-in tried to help the buried men, even using a backhoe to remove some of the soil. A 20-man team of rescue workers labored to recover the men, but Columbus Fire Marshall Chief Ricky Shores told WTVM that they had to be careful because the trench is 30 feet deep and the men were buried under at least 12 feet of dirt. The composition of the soil and the lack of retaining walls inside the trench complicated the rescue efforts, according to Mr. Shores.
Coroner Buddy Bryan said that Mr. Jackson and Mr. Thomas died of accidental asphyxia. OSHA warns on its website that one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car.
OSHA devotes much of its resources and efforts to educating construction and excavation employers and their workers about the dangers of trench work, and the agency regulates trench safety with a series of very specific rules designed to prevent such deadly cave-ins from occurring.
Unfortunately, not all construction and excavation companies follow the required safety measures all of the time. While the Columbus incident remains under investigation, reports state that the trench the men were working in wasn’t shored to prevent the walls from caving in.
According to OSHA, cave-ins pose the greatest risk of all excavation-related activities, and they are the most likely to result in worker fatalities. Two workers are killed every month on average as a result of trench collapses.