According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the state of Texas leads the nation in a dubious category; the number of fatalities caused by trench collapses. With a few weeks left in 2017, there have thus far been three trench fatalities statewide.
That is one reason trench rescue demonstration was held recently in Robstown, Texas, just outside Corpus Christi. Many in attendance seem to have been surprised by the odds against surviving a trench collapse if a worker is caught in one. One public works official with the City of Corpus Christi told was quoted saying that he was “amazed” that most rescues are unsuccessful. And that was someone who digs trenches as a regular part of his job.
Many others in attendance also seemed surprised that it’s necessary for rescuers to dig with their hands, rather than use equipment, for reasons that should seem obvious. Some suggested that it would be nice to have some sort of vacuum system to get the collapsed dirt out of the hole. Some also noted that the density of the clay in many parts of Texas makes such a rescue even more difficult.
Attendees to the demonstration learned that the biggest factors when it came to trench collapse survival were weight and time. The weight of the dirt averages about 100 pounds per square foot, or 2,700 pounds per square yard, which is the equivalent of two standard truckloads of dirt. Workers can only last a few minutes under that amount of dirt, so by the time rescuers get to the scene and start doing their job, time is already working against them. All those factors combine to makes the prevention of trench collapses extremely important, through proper digging and by bracing the trench walls.
According to OSHA, nationwide, there were 11 fatalities due to trench collapses in 2014 and another 11 in 2015, but the number soared to 23 in 2016. Texas saw two trenching fatalities in 2016 and there have been three so far in 2017. There were two in Texas last year and three more this year. This is the third annual such demonstration, but organizers hope to hold another next year, and every year until the problem is fixed.