I’m glad Seth Thomas survived—for him, and especially for his kids, who’d have been sunk if he’d died. It could have easily gone the other way. Thomas, a single dad, was repairing a sewer line in a narrow 10-foot trench at a home in Lehi, Utah. The soil was wet and the trench is reported to have collapsed “several times” the night before.
Local news reports differ in their descriptions of what happened but all agree Thomas was in the trench when it partially collapsed on him, pinning him between dirt and some kind of construction material – which presumably had been used for shoring. Fire and rescue personnel were called in and risked their own lives to extricate him from the trench. Thomas was briefly hospitalized with a cracked pelvis and injured knee. Considering what could have happened, he got off easily.
I won’t criticize what was or wasn’t done to prevent the trench from collapsing because frankly, I don’t know what they did on that jobsite. One report describes Thomas as being pinned by particle board, dirt, and cement – but I find it hard to believe anyone would be foolish enough to shore a trench with particle board. It could be the reporter meant to say plywood or did not know the difference between particle board and OSB. Is it permissible to shore a trench with wood? Yes, if done to OSHA standards. Did the crew shore the trench correctly? I don’t know. And even if someone told me exactly what was done I still wouldn’t know for sure. But then I don’t need to know; I’m out of construction and no longer have to go down into trenches. But you might, so for the sake of yourself, your family, and fire fighters (and their families) who might be called in to rescue you, learn what you’re supposed to do and do it every time. For more on trench safety see the OSHA technical manual. To see an interview of Thomas by the local TV station click here.