In June, 33-year-old James Rogers was crushed to death as he was digging in a 12-foot trench in Washington Township, Ohio, after the trench walls caved in and buried him under tons of dirt. His death was a part of an “alarming and unacceptable” trend in trench deaths, which have more than doubled since last year, federal regulators say.
It took hours for rescue workers to recover Mr. Rogers’ body. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) probed the circumstances surrounding Mr. Rogers’ death and that investigation revealed some disturbing evidence that his employer, KRW Plumbing LLC, showed little regard for the safety of its workers.
Mr. Rogers was part of a crew installing a sewer line at a residential home under construction. According to OSHA, earlier on the day of the fatal accident, a portion of the unprotected trench collapsed, but Mr. Rogers was able to escape.
OSHA inspectors also said Mr. Rogers was involved in a trench collapse about a month earlier at another construction site, because KRW Plumbing failed to provide trench cave-in protection. That discovery led OSHA to open a separate investigation in October 2016.
“This man’s life could have been saved by following OSHA’s safety standards that require cave-in protection in a trench more than 5-feet deep,” said Ken Montgomery, OSHA’s area director in Cincinnati. “Excavating companies need to re-examine their safety procedures to ensure they are taking all available precautions – including installing trench boxes, shoring and other means to prevent unexpected shifts in the soil that can cause walls to collapse.”
OSHA hit the plumbing company with penalties totaling $274,359 for its failure to protect workers from cave-ins, prevent excavated dirt from falling back into the trench, and train workers to understand trenching hazards.
Mr. Rogers was one of 23 workers killed in trench collapses this year. An additional dozen workers were injured. According to OSHA, trench collapses are rarely survivable. Just one cubic yard of soil can weigh up to one and a half tons – about the weight of a small car. Such pressure and weight gives workers little hope of surviving when the walls of a trench more than five feet deep collapse.
Dr. David Michaels, assistant labor secretary for OSHA, said that trench deaths have more than doubled since last year. “[This] alarming and unacceptable trend that must be halted. There is no excuse. These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know.”