Recent Trench Collapses Highlight the Importance of Safety

Trench collapses in Maryland and Alberta produced both a tragedy and a close call

Recent Trench Collapses Highlight the Importance of Safety

A reportedly unshored 15-foot-deep trench collapsed on June 5 in Baltimore, killing a worker. (Photo by Baltimore Sun)

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With June being National Safety Month, and this week in particular the National Utility Contractors Association putting the focus on trench safety, it’s worth highlighting two recent job site incidents.

On June 5 in Baltimore, a 15-foot-deep trench collapsed and killed 20-year-old construction worker Kyle Hancock.

The proper safety shoring wasn’t installed in the trench Hancock was working in, according to authorities. He was fixing a sewer line when the walls caved in.

Rescue personnel retrieved two other workers who were trying to save Hancock without incident, but spent 10 hours digging before they found Hancock’s body. Baltimore officials suspended work on $16 million worth of contracts the city had with R.F. Warder — the company Hancock worked for — citing safety concerns.

“Initial reports of the incident indicate that this loss of life resulted from R.F. Warder’s failure to comply with safety requirements relating to trenching,” writes Erin Sher Smyth, city purchasing agent, in a letter.

Maryland OSHA investigators are continuing to look into the incident.

Meanwhile, another trench collapse out of Edmonton, Alberta, could have turned out much worse than it did. An employee working to install a shoring cage as part of a sewer repair job was buried up to his neck on June 14 after the walls of a trench gave way.

He was buried up to his helmet and trapped for nearly three hours while a fellow construction worker scooped sand and debris away from his face and made sure he was breathing.

“He was spitting the sand out, essentially,” the other worker tells local media. “He had my one hand, so my other hand just kept clearing [the dirt] away and asking him if he could still breathe.”

Coincidentally, Edmonton Fire Rescue personnel had been practicing trench rescues that same day, and they freed the man and sent him to the hospital. He was unharmed and returned to work the next day.

“Obviously something happened there that we’ve got to get to the bottom of,” Terran Sandwith, president of GS Construction, tells CTV News. “This has never happened to us, so definitely a little bit of a shock. We’re going to leverage this as a learning lesson and try to be better going forward.”

GS Construction was the lead contractor on the project, but the worker who was rescued was employed by Orion Environmental.

Nothing separates these two incidents in a noteworthy way from other trench collapses Cleaner magazine has reported on in the past. But that doesn’t mean they deserve any less attention because every trench collapse is another opportunity for safety education. It’s important to always keep trench safety top of mind. All it takes is one slip-up to produce a tragic event.

Check out these articles that address trench safety:

There's No Excuse For Trenching Accidents

14 Steps to Ensure Safety In and Around Trenches and Excavations — Part 1

14 Steps to Ensure Safety In and Around Trenches and Excavations — Part 2

Think It Can't Happen to You? How to Respond to a Trench Collapse

It's Not Worth Your Life


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