Safety and OSHA News

Fatality: Worker buried up to his head in trench collapse

A carpenter was buried up to the top of his head in the collapse of a 12-foot ditch. The situation was so dangerous that rescuers couldn’t remove his body until two days later.

When rescuers arrived at the housing construction site in Milpitas, CA, Raul Zapata, 39, was already dead, crushed by an avalanche of soil.

Now police and Cal-OSHA are considering criminal charges against the construction company, U.S.-Sino Investment, because city inspectors had ordered them to cease work just three days before the trench collapse.

When inspectors visited the site, they found the 12-foot deep hole had no shoring system in place and there was no assurance that the trench would not collapse. Significant rain on the days before the inspection made the situation even more dangerous.

Building inspectors issued a stop-work order until the company could prove it had shored the trench. Violating the order can lead to a $1,000 fine.

Rescuers had to delay removal of the body because if they had jumped into the ditch, they would have risked being buried, too.

While it might seem gruesome to leave the body in the ground for two days, the rescuers made the correct decision. In all too many situations, untrained employees try to rescue an injured co-worker, only to become injured or even die themselves in the process.

Click here for OSHA’s trenching and excavation Web page.

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  1. Cal OSHA requires permit from Cal OSHA to trench. This will not be getting better in the near future. At this point in time, why any worker who would enter a trench unprotected is beyond me. Workers need to know that the dirt can be to your waist and you can still be crushed to the point you cannot breathe. Talking about a $1,000 fine is a joke. If the employer assigned work in an unprotected trench-this will be a drop in the bucket and rightfully so.

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