OSHA investigating Omaha trench collapse that trapped worker
March 15, 2017 By Karla James
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation into a 8 foot deep trench collapse that trapped a worker in Omaha, NE Tuesday morning. The ordeal started at 9:45 a.m. at 130th and Hawthorne Court and it took more than six hours to free Drew Johnson who was working on a sewer main project. He was rushed to a hospital and continues to recover.
OSHA Public Affairs spokesperson Scott Allen says they are just starting their investigation and had compliance officers at the scene on Tuesday and they will likely return today. They will be interviewing witnesses and talk with officials at Utility Trenching to see if all standards and regulations were followed.
There have been several OSHA investigations involving Utility Trenching. Allen says, “They received three violations in 2008 for excavation standards that were not being followed. They received a repeat violation in 2012 for the same thing. We are concerned that any company working in trenching, they must follow the OSHA standards and regulations to prevent this type of incident.” He says any time a company has a worker in a trench that is five feet deep has to have proper shoring materials or a trenching box to prevent it from collapsing in on the workers.
Allen says OSHA has six months to complete their investigation. We reached out to Utility Trenching who had no comment.
U.S. Labor Department officials have opened an investigation into the trenching company that was involved in Tuesday’s trench collapse that trapped a worker for about 6½ hours.
Utility Trenching, which has operated in Omaha for 15 years and has four previous OSHA violations, will be investigated by officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Violations can result in fines up to $160,000 a piece, though actual fines tend to be substantially lower.
An employee of Utility Trenching declined to comment Wednesday.
Drew Johnson, 23, became stuck knee-deep in soil in a roughly 12-foot-deep trench about 9:45 a.m. Tuesday outside a home at 13019 Hawthorne Court. One side of the trench had collapsed on his legs.
About 30 Omaha firefighters responded and used equipment from Metropolitan Utilities District to loosen the soil and free Johnson. He was taken to Nebraska Medical Center with foot pain and was listed in fair condition Wednesday.
His mother, Joan Johnson, asked an acquaintance, Wendy Keeler, to release a statement Wednesday.
“Andrew is resting in ICU,” the statement said, adding: “The family appreciates your respect for their privacy at this time.”
Joan Johnson also thanked workers for the lengthy effort to rescue her son.
“Joan wants to thank all the fire and rescue personnel who stepped up to save her son and she understands the time involved in his rescue was due to the danger of compartment syndrome (damaging pressure on tissue) and further trench collapse,” the statement said. “The time involved in his rescue was very reasonable. Rescue staff was only concerned with Drew’s health and welfare, along with their own safety.”
Scott Allen, an OSHA spokesman, said the department will work quickly to investigate the incident. He said it must be finished in six months.
“These types of incidents are completely preventable,” Allen said. “It’s the responsibility of the company doing the work to ensure that they have the proper shoring or trench boxes to protect the worker from cave-ins.”
The company’s previous four violations have occurred over the past nine years, adding up to $7,850 in fines.
OSHA found three “serious” violations in 2008 — two citing excavation violations and a third citing general protective systems. OSHA fined the company $750 for each of the three violations.
The two trenching protocols that were violated involved having a safe exit in excavations that are more than 4 feet deep and having daily inspections to look for conditions that could lead to cave-ins.
The company then had one “repeat” violation in 2012 that had to do with the regulation requiring a safe exit from the trench — a stairway, ladder, ramp or other means.
Trenching work is considered a hazardous operation because cave-ins can be fatal. Two methods — sloping soil on each side or putting a protective box or shield to protect an employee — are the most common ways to prevent cave-ins, according to an OSHA safety publication.