Trench Collapse Claims Construction Worker’s Life

A construction worker in Utah lost his life after jumping in to a trench to rescue a co-worker from a cave-in. News outlets have only identified the victim a a 41-year-old man. Co-workers say he was a husband and father. Trench

Although authorities at the future housing development site characterized the incident as a “tragic accident,” the fact of the matter is that trench cave-ins are the type of incident that should never occur if proper safety protocol is followed.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports an average of two workers are killed each month in trench collapses. Employers have a legal duty to provide a workplace that is free from recognized safety hazards. When there is a trench on the work site, that means employers are responsible for complying with guidelines on trenching and excavation, as set forth in 29 CFR 1926.651 and 1926.652.

A trench is a type of narrow excavation that is below ground level and is generally wider in depth than width, with the width not greater than 15 feet.

The single biggest risk for workers in trenches is the possibility of a cave-in. The danger is often underestimated. Consider that a single cubic yard of soil weighs as much as a motor vehicle. A trench that isn’t protected has a very real potential to be an early grave.

News outlets reported workers were in the midst of installing a water line when the dirt suddenly started to cave in. There was one man who was having difficulty getting out. He was six feet beneath the ground surface. Witnesses said the trench collapsed from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

Co-workers immediately responded to try to help the man who was stuck. The decedent jumped in to help his co-worker. A third worker jumped in to help him.

One of the three men was pulled to safety. A second suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries. However, the decedent, who had been the first to jump in to save his friend, became trapped for more than an hour. The pressure from the dirt, thick mud, and debris became too much for his body to withstand. By the time firefighters were able to reach him, he was already dead.

OSHA was on site that evening, having already launched an investigation. Neither the developer nor the construction worker’s employer was available for comment.  Authorities suspended all work at the site until a full investigation is completed.

Workers’ compensation death benefits are available to families of employees killed in the course and scope of employment.

In South Carolina, a death benefit may be paid that is equal to 500 weeks’ worth of compensation, subject to limitations (i.e., benefits already paid). Workers’ families are also entitled to up to $2,500 in burial benefits. Such claims have to be filed within two years of the worker’s death, or else they may be forever barred.

However, third-party personal injury lawsuits against others who may have been negligent (i.e., the general contractor, the developer, the property owner, the product manufacturer, or others) are subject to the typical limitations of South Carolina’s wrongful death statute, S.C. Code § 15-3-530(6), which requires claims to be filed within three years.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a trench collapse in South Carolina or North Carolina, we can help with your claim for compensation.

Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Construction worker dies after jumping into trench to rescue coworker from cave in, Oct. 3, 2016,

More Blog Entries:

Mold-Related Workers’ Compensation Claims Pile Up in Spartanburg, Oct. 3, 2015, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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