Nebraska Plumber Dies in Trench Collapse

61-year-old worker was installing residential sewer line in 8-foot-deep excavation

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A 61-year-old plumber died after a trench in which he was working collapsed on him. Jim Spencer of Minatare, Nebraska, was installing sewer lines for a home in an 8-foot-deep trench.

According to the Scottsbluff Star Herald, police received a 911 call about 1:20 p.m. Monday of an accident at a construction site. Rescuers arriving at the scene found workers digging to uncover a man trapped under a large amount of dirt. It took several minutes for EMS personnel to reach Spencer. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Spencer was employed by Clau-Chin Construction of Alliance, Nebraska. A second worker, Seth Daniel Walton, 19, was injured in the collapse. He was taken to a local hospital, treated for minor injuries and released.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration office in Omaha is investigating the cave-in. The construction company does not have a history of OSHA violations.

“This tragic death is a reminder of just how quickly a trench can become a death trap and potentially bury a worker under thousands of pounds of soil,” Jeff Funke, OSHA area director in Omaha, told the Star Herald.

OSHA requires protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet unless the excavation is entirely in stable rock. Trenches at least 4 feet deep require a safe means of entrance and exit — ladders, steps, ramps — within 25 feet of workers.

Excavated soil and other materials must be kept at least 2 feet from the edge of the trench. According to OSHA, a cubic yard of soil can weigh over 3,000 pounds, about as much as a small automobile.

Services for Spencer were held Friday, March 25. He is survived by his wife, Cheryl, two daughters and three grandchildren.

Spencer spent most of his life doing plumbing, appliance repair and maintenance at the Minatare School District. He loved fishing, hunting and camping. According to his obituary, there wasn’t anything Spencer couldn’t repair or fabricate. He was quick-witted and had a joke for anyone and everyone.



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