Portland Construction Worker Killed in Trench Collapse

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 for comment.

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.