"When they got to me I was dead, I had no pulse, I was blue in the face, and I had dirt caked in my nose and mouth." So says Eric Giguere of his condition upon being pulled from a trench in upstate New York.

It happened in October 2002. Giguere, who had been married less than a week, was installing a sewer line in an unprotected trench when the walls suddenly gave way and he found himself buried under 6 feet of dirt. It took 10 minutes for his coworkers to dig him out and begin to administer CPR. When the ambulance arrived the EMTs continued with CPR until he could be helicoptered to the hospital.

The doctors didn't think he would survive, and that if he did he'd have extensive brain damage. Fortunately, they were wrong and a week later Giguere walked out of the hospital with broken ribs, holes in his skull, and memories that haunt him to this day.

Giguere now makes a living speaking on safety, using the story of his accident as an example of what can happen when you cut corners. The information that follows came from a talk he gave at a safety conference in 2011 (a partial video of it can be found at the bottom of this page)

He describes the collapse as coming completely out of the blue in a trench they'd been working in for months without any problems.  Of the collapse he says, "It was immediate. I had no time to run… I had no time to do anything…I couldn't see. I couldn't move. I was 100% completely helpless. I cannot explain to you how scary it was to be in the bottom of the trench. I knew I was going to die right there."

Giguere goes on to describe the terrible choice his coworkers had to make - whether to dig him out quickly with the excavator or more slowly by hand (they ended up doing a bit of both). "We forced a guy (the operator) who was working for $100 or $125 per day to make a decision about my life". If the operator had said "I don't know where Eric is, I'm afraid I'm going to hit him…I can't do it – he'd have had to live the rest of his life knowing he'd left me there to die." 

On the other hand, if he had used the machine and "come up with a piece of me in that bucket, he'd have had to live the rest of his life knowing that he'd killed me. That is a terrible situation to put someone in. And we forced that on him because we were comfortable taking shortcuts."

After relating the story of his rescue Giguere asked the supervisors in the audience to consider what happens in the aftermath of a fatal accident: "If you take a shortcut to save a little time and somebody gets hurt, who do you think's going to have to make that phone call? It may be you having to call somebody's family up and telling them, Joe's not coming home today because we didn't want to do things the right way. Or worse yet, it may be your family getting that phone call because you didn't think safety was important."

It's hard not to listen to a talk about safety when the person doing the talking is Eric Giguere. For a more detailed telling of the story, see this excellent article in EHS Today. You might also want to check out this 2012 trench collapse story from Tools of the Trade, which includes video of an actual collapse.

Eric Giguere’s 2011 speech at the CGA Excavation Safety Conference and Expo (it begins at the 0:40 mark).