On March 21, 2016, at an Alliance, Nebraska, construction site, a veteran plumber had been working in trenches that were eight feet deep at a newly constructed home on Toluca Avenue. The 61-year-old was apparently on all fours installing sewer pipes within one of those when his co-worker dumped what's been estimated to be 3,000 pounds of dirt on top of him.
The horrible error that had been made was realized right away by the man's co-workers. Both paramedics and fire crews were summoned to the scene. They worked tirelessly to extract the Minatare man from his unintended gave, although, by the time he was freed, he'd already passed on. A coroner later ruled that he essentially died from asphyxia, or smothering, by dirt.
It's believed that the dirt became trapped in his upper airways including his mouth and nose making it impossible for him to breathe. It's likely that he initially felt as if he was being subjected to holding his breath, then lost consciousness, before eventually passing out. This process likely took at few minutes to happen.
Trench burials like this are far more common than you may expect. According to the United States Department of Labor, as many as 26 Americans were killed when they too were buried in trench collapses in 2016. This year's statistic was two times the death rate from 2015.
Both federal and state laws aim to prevent such an incident. Under the national Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) Rule 1926, subsections 651 and 652, all trenches with depths more than five feet are required to be reinforced. These rules disallow the use of any heavy machinery along the edges of trenches as well.
When interviewed by OSHA, both the general contractor, overseeing the construction site, and his excavator, who was responsible for digging the trench, reportedly professed ignorance of these trench safety standards. Both ultimately were fined a grand total of $41,600 for the oversight that resulted in the plumber's death.
As for the man's widow, she argues that the fines waged against the contractors that created this unsafe work environment aren't enough.She argues that they should face criminal charges for their negligence.
If you've been severely injured or have lost a loved one in a workplace incident, then an Omaha workers' compensation attorney may advise you of your right to file a claim in your injury case.
Source: The Center for Public Integrity, "Death in the Trench," Jim Morris, Dec. 14, 2017