A trench collapsed and killed a 27-year-old worker in Portland yesterday.
The construction worker was at the bottom of a trench working on a sewer
line when the walls on both sides of the trench collapsed.
According to Portland Fire & Rescue, the crew was using temporary bracing
walls to prevent the collapse of the 11 feet deep, 3 feet wide, and 70
feet long trench.
“At some point during the operation,” they added, “[the
worker] ventured just outside that trench box, where the walls are not
protected, and experienced a trench collapse.”
There is no word yet as to what caused the collapse. Oregon Occupational
Safety & Health Division investigators were at the scene for several
hours. Their investigations into workplace fatalities can
take up to six months. While they could not go into specifics, a representative of OSHA said
that these investigations generally involve interviewing witnesses, collecting
evidence, examining equipment, and reviewing training and safety protocols.
Some are saying that the collapse “could possibly have been avoided,” however,
it will not be until the end of the investigation that OSHA will confirm
whether any rules were broken.
The company doing the work was TC Excavating. They did not respond to requests
Protections for Oregon Workers
In Oregon, employers are protected by Employer Liability Law (ELL), which
can provide coverage beyond workers’ compensation. The ELL specifically
states that “All owners, contractors or subcontractors and other
persons having charge of, or responsibility for, any work involving a
risk or danger to the employees or the public shall use every device,
care and precaution that is practicable to use for the protection and
safety of life or limb… without regard to the additional cost of
suitable material or safety appliance and devices.”
The Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Division also has
specific instructions for excavations and trenches. OSHA specifically states that, “If you work in an excavation that’s
five feet or deeper, you must be protected from a cave-in. If a competent
person determines that there is a potential for an excavation to cave
in, you must be protected regardless of the trench’s depth.”
The OSHA approved methods for preventing a trench collapse are sloping,
benching, shoring, and shielding. According to Portland Fire & Rescue
who responded to the emergency, the worker was outside of the trench box
when the sides collapsed, which could indicate that the safety walls did
not run the entire length of the trench.
Paulson Coletti is no stranger to cases involving tragic accidents at the
workplace. For example, they achieved a $1 million settlement for a man
who was inspecting a saw when another employee activated the machine,
amputating his arm. In dangerous work environments, workers are entitled
to safety protections to mitigate risk and avoid accidents like the one
that occurred yesterday.