Indiana Plumber Survives Trench Collapse

Worker buried over his head digs free from sandy soil.
Indiana Plumber Survives Trench Collapse
An Indianapolis plumber escaped serious injury when the trench he was working in collapsed on him. (Photos courtesy Indianapolis Fire Department)

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A 32-year-old Mr. Plumber employee survived a trench cave-in last month with help from a co-worker and Citizen’s Energy employee who called 911.

The victim was repairing a sewer line in a trench about 7 feet deep at 1046 N. Tibbs Ave., in Indianapolis, Indiana, when co-worker Albert Illg, 29, shouted to evacuate the hole. Within seconds the sandy bedding collapsed upon the victim, leaving only the top of his baseball cap visible, according to the Indianapolis Fire Department.

Illg immediately jumped into the trench and began digging, as did a nearby utility worker. By the time firefighters arrived minutes later, the victim had been uncovered to his mid-chest.

Fire paramedics maintained contact with the man in the unshored trench, who remained responsive, and continued digging.

Rescuers entered the hole upon shoring the trench, assisting the victim, who was able to uncover his legs and pull them out one by one.

Mr. Plumber workers say they had been at the site since 8:30 a.m. The cave-in occurred about 1:30 p.m. and fire rescue workers were on the scene at 1:39 p.m. They entered the hole at 1:57 p.m. and had the victim out at 2 p.m.

A 2-year employee of Mr. Plumber, the victim was taken in good condition to a local hospital.

Teamwork and sheer willpower prevented a harrowing moment from resulting in injury, says Rita L. Reith, battalion chief – media relations for IFD.

Trench Safety

David Dow, chair of the training committee of the North American Excavation Shoring Association (NAXSA) and co‑founder and vice president of TrenchSafety and Supply, offers these safety reminders:

The General Requirements Section of OSHA’s Subpart P provides a number of common-sense steps to help ensure worker safety. As with any OSHA Standard or other safety procedure, it is important to always remember that these are the minimum requirements to ensure safe job sites.

1. Surface encumbrances
To ensure their stability and integrity, they need to be removed or supported while an excavation is open. Examples include rocks, trees, telephone and utility poles, fire hydrants, etc. 

2. Underground installations
Examples include gas, electrical, water, sewer lines, etc. They must be:

  • Located and marked before beginning work. Property owners and/or utility companies should be notified at least 24 hours prior to digging, unless a longer time is required by local law. Some states require 72 hours advance notice. Most other states require 48 hours notice.
  • Protected, supported or removed while the trench is open

Most states have so-called “811 One-Call” laws. Simply dial 811 to contact the One-Call Center in your state.

3. Access and egress
These are fancy words for entering and exiting a trench. The requirements are:

  • In trenches that are 4 feet or more in depth, provide a means of access and egress
  • Spacing between ladders, stairs or ramps should not be more than 50 feet
  • No worker should have to travel more than 25 feet laterally to reach a means of egress (exit)
  • Ladders must be secured and extend 36 inches above the landing

In addition, it is important to use wood or fiberglass ladders where there is a possibility of electric shock. Many utility companies and contractors always use wood or fiberglass ladders to ensure there is never a problem.

A “Competent Person” must design all structural ramps used solely by employees. Further, a Competent Person qualified in structural design must design all structural ramps used for equipment. Usually this person will be a registered professional engineer.

Finally, the components used in structural ramps must be connected, be of uniform thickness, be constructed so that cleats and other connectors do not create a tripping hazard, and if ramps are used instead of steps they must be provided with cleats or other surface treatments to prevent slipping.

4. Exposure to vehicular traffic
Employees must be protected from being struck by motor vehicles. Also, employees must be provided with — and must wear — warning vests or other highly visible garments when exposed to traffic. Generally, employees are considered “exposed” when they are within the right-of-way. Signs, signals, barricades or flagmen may be required.

5. Exposure to falling loads
The law is simple. The objective is to protect employees from being struck by falling objects:

  • Employees are not permitted underneath raised loads
  • Employees are required to stand away from equipment that is being loaded or unloaded
  • Equipment operators or truck drivers may stay in equipment if it is properly equipped with a cab shield or adequate canopy

6. Warning system for mobile equipment
Preventing vehicles from falling or backing into a trench can be accomplished by providing:

  • Barricades
  • Hand or mechanical signals
  • Stop logs
  • Grading away from the excavation

Equipment with an obstructed view is required to have working backup alarms, or observers must be assigned when backing up. Suggestion: Caution your employees not to be complacent around backup alarms. On some projects, there are so many backup alarms, employees may ignore them.

Trenches don’t have to be deep to be dangerous. See the video below:




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