Safety issues examined in trench collapse

By Kyle Perrotti | Feb 06, 2017
Photo by: File Photo The accident occurred Jan. 26 near Allen Creek in Waynesville where a town crew, along with workers from WNC Paving Inc., were replacing a bank following the repair of a leaking water pipe when the bank collapsed.

A division of the N.C. Department of Labor has opened an investigation into an accident that sent a local man to the hospital after he was buried under a pile of dirt.

The accident occurred Jan. 26 near Allen Creek in Waynesville where a town crew, along with workers from WNC Paving Inc., were replacing a bank following the repair of a leaking water pipe. The bank collapsed when three workers were at the bottom of a trench, and one was buried under the dirt. The names of the individuals involved in the accident are not being released pending the investigation.

N.C. Department of Labor Director of Communications Delores Quesenberry said the investigation was opened within the 24 hours required by law if a person is hospitalized as a result of a worksite injury.

“Based on preliminary information, there were three employees in the trench and one got fully engulfed,” she said.

The investigation will focus solely on the events surrounding the accident, unless observations made at the site indicate that a broader investigation is needed. The investigator, Gary Thorpe, will visit the accident site to collect physical evidence and take photographs, as well as interview employees, witnesses and management officials to determine the cause.

Things Thorpe will specifically look for are whether protective systems included sloping the sides of the trench or providing a shield between the trench sides and the work area, if the soil was tested and placed at least 2 feet from the trench’s edge, if vibrations from equipment may have affected the stability, if employees wore hard hats, had safe exits from the trench and if there were any violations which require citations.

Waynesville Public Services Director David Foster was not able to say much about the investigation itself other than they are almost done with recreating the accident.

"We got the site secured, we're about done with our end of things," he said.

Rescue workers on the scene of the accident were saying that they believed the man is lucky to have emerged from the incident relatively unscathed, and they were right. According to the most recent N.C. DOL statistics, from Oct. 2013 to Sept. 2014 in North Carolina, 40 people were killed in workplace fatalities from trench cave-ins, with 17 occurring on construction sites.

Quesenberry said the investigation is expected to take three to four months to complete. Citations and penalties, if issued, will be released to the public on the issuance date, but other contents of the file cannot be released until the case is closed or a final order on the citations is rendered.