Grading & Excavation Contractor

Buried Alive

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Nearly two years ago in the November/December 2016 issue of Grading and Excavation Contractor, we published an article called, “Safety: Excavation and Trenching Dangers.” In that article is the story of Eric Giguere, a man who was buried alive in a trench collapse.

“As Eric Giguere left for work on the morning of October 4, 2002, little was different in his daily routine other than the wedding ring he had just started wearing.

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In his position as a laborer, he was tasked with installing water lines in a rural setting. Though the work was difficult, it gave him a sense of accomplishment and well being as he knew he would be able to provide well for his new family.  At the age of 27, he felt as though his hard work was well rewarded with a $20-per-hour wage.

However, things changed quickly later that afternoon.

Working in a trench roughly 6 feet deep, he crouched down near the pipe his crew had been laying. Without warning, the sides of the trench collapsed, completely engulfing him with a crushing sensation. Immediately, a sense of panic set in as he fully realized what had happened. Panic soon gave way to fear, as he realized the breaths he was taking were becoming more labored. Fear soon subsided as well replaced with the fact that he was dying.

The remainder of the five-man crew onsite immediately had to make difficult decisions when the trench collapsed. His backhoe operator took the top 2 feet of soil off immediately but left the rest of the digging to be performed by hand out of fear of injuring Giguere further.

Roughly 10 minutes later, he was uncovered, completely blue with no signs of life. As the ambulance was on its way, Giguere’s coworkers began performing CPR on him.

The ambulance crew arrived and continued CPR, eventually evacuating him by helicopter to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. There, doctors informed Giguere’s wife, family, and friends who had gathered that despite their best efforts, he might not live, and if I did he would likely have severe brain damage.

One-by-one, loved ones filed into his hospital room to pay what they thought would be their last respects. As family members comforted his wife, a delivery was being made to the now vacant accident site. The contractor he was employed by was dropping off a trench box that was not previously available. It was approximately 4 p.m.—the time when Giguere and his wife were supposed to have been leaving for their honeymoon.

Thankfully, Giguere survived and lived to talk about the accident. ‘It’s going to happen,’ he says. ‘I was a 27-year-old bulletproof kid when it happened to me, and I was just trying to get my job done. My big message is this: we can’t get used to taking shortcuts on the job.’”

Every year we publish multiple articles on the dangers involved in trenching projects. In fact, in our upcoming November/December 2018 issue of GX, we have another feature article that focuses on safety with trenching and shoring.

Without giving away too much of the article, what struck me were the statistics from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that said trench collapses don’t discriminate by age. In other words, one age group is just as susceptible to a collapse as any other. Trenches less than 9 feet deep accounted for the vast majority of fatalities. And the majority of fatalities occur when there is no protective system in place.

Due to a recent spike in trenching fatalities, OSHA is updating its National Emphasis Program (NEP) on preventing trenching and excavation collapses. The NEP will increase education and enforcement efforts while its inspectors will record trenching and excavation inspections in a national reporting system, and each area OSHA office will develop outreach programs.

In a press release announcing the update Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Loren Sweatt said, “Removing workers from and helping workers identify trenching hazards is critical. OSHA will concentrate the full force of enforcement and compliance assistance resources to help ensure that employers are addressing these serious hazards.”

The emphasis program began on October 1. There will be a three-month period of education and prevention outreach during which OSHA will continue to respond to complaints, referrals, hospitalizations, and fatalities. Enforcement activities will begin after the outreach period and remain in effect until canceled.

Please go to OSHA’s trenching and excavation webpage which provides information on trenching hazards and solutions.

Now here are a couple of videos I’d like you to watch.

The first is of Eric Giguere explaining why he started to spread his message of safety. He continues to spread that word today.

And this is short trench safety video from OSHA shows “5 Things You Should Know to Stay Safe in a Trench.”


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  1. 47-years ago, I too was just starting my career in the trades. We were installing a sewer line to a home in a ditch 8′ deep – with no shoring. The homeowner rushed out to say there was a call over the local radio station asking for help due to a ditch cave-in with several workers trapped just a short distance away. We grabbed our shovels, jumped in the truck, and were first to arrive. One man was crushed by solid walls of dirt that did not break up and it was obvious he was dead. He had attempted to jump out of the ditch because his feet were about two feet above the bottom of the 9′ deep trench. A second man, just a few feet away, was trapped in crumbled dirt up to his arm pits. A third man was trapped up to his waist and managed to free himself. After digging out the man who was alive (ambulance on site by then) we dug out the dead man. Never again did I enter a ditch without shoring or trench box and that included benching deeper ditches. I ended up in my own business and have never allowed our employees to enter trenches without shoring. Many years ago, we were replacing a sewer line in an 8′ deep ditch inside a factory. It was, ironically, father’s day and one employee kept complaining the hydraulic shoring was slowing his progress. Not long afterwards, as he was relocating one section of shoring, the ditch collapsed, which would have engulfed him had he been working without shoring. Last time he complained about shoring! I’ll soon be retiring and although safer work practices have cost extra time, I wanted the same measure of caution for my employees that I had to fight for while working for other firms.

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