I don’t imagine I’m the only one to get a hee-haw every time the list of the latest finalists for the prestigious Darwin Award comes out. Routinely in line for the highest honor are the guys who don’t bother to check whether the bungee cord is attached to anything before launching off from the bridge, or the would-be armed robbers who shoot themselves instead of their intended victims, but I’d like to nominate anyone who locates a worm hole into the afterlife by climbing into an unshored trench for special distinction.
Not that such events aren’t heart-rending—of course they are, because most of us have courted death in this or some similar way in our past—but there’s enough documentation out there showing the idiocy of such behavior that the only explanation for construction professionals to place themselves at risk in this manner is arrogance…or perhaps a genuine death wish. Let me show a few examples from OSHA’s current list of construction fatalities:
* Two employees were installing storm drainpipes in a trench, approximately 20–30 feet long, 12–13 feet deep and 5–6 feet wide. The sidewalls consisted of unstable soil undermined by sand and water. There was 3–5 feet of water in the north end of the trench and 5–6 inches of water in the south end. At the time of the accident, a backhoe was being used to clear the trench. The west wall of the trench collapsed, and one employee was crushed and killed.
* An employee was installing a small diameter pipe in a trench 3 feet wide, 12–15 feet deep, and 90 feet long. The trench was not shored or sloped, nor was there a box or shield to protect the employee. Further, there was evidence of a previous cave-in. The employee apparently recentered the trench, and a second cave-in occurred, burying him. He was found face down in the bottom of the trench.
* Four employees of a mechanical contractor were laying a lateral sewer line at a building site. The foreman, a plumber by trade, and a laborer were laying an 8-inch, 20-foot-long plastic sewer pipe in the bottom of a trench 36 inches wide, 9 feet deep, and approximately 50 feet long. The trench was neither sloped nor shored, and there was water entering it along a shale seam near the bottom. The west side of the trench caved in near the bottom, burying one employee to his chest and completely covering the other. Rescue operations took two and five hours—too late to save the men.
* A four-man crew was replacing a concrete filter tank at a carwash construction site. After the small tank had been removed, two employees entered the trench to hand grade the bottom. The trench, 9 feet deep, 14 feet long, and 6 feet wide, had vertical faces that were not shored or sloped. One face of the trench collapsed, fatally injuring one employee and causing serious injuries to the other.
There are more, but why bother when we’ve got enough to push all but a few of the most serious crazies out of award contention? But as frightening as these examples are, what kind of award should there be for the contractors and supervisors of those who paid the highest price? For certain we won’t find any hee-haw here.