California Trench Fatality Comes After OSHA PSA Warning

July 31, 2018

The death of a California construction worker who was killed when a trench collapsed at his job site has reinforced a message that the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has been desperately trying to convey.

The message? That trenches can be one of the most dangerous areas of a construction site, and the proper safety steps must be followed to prevent tragic accidents.

OSHA released a PSA recording on July 6, 2018, explaining these dangers and the steps that employers should take to avoid incidents, but the warning was followed just weeks later, on July 27, 2018, with a fatal trench collapse at a Daly City job site. It is just one of two trench collapse deaths that have occurred in the state in recent months and highlights why trenches are one of the most common areas for construction site injuries.

Father of Four Killed in Daly City Trench Collapse

Thirty-four-year-old Abel Sauceda Quiñónez was working on a construction in the Linda Vista Drive/Main Street area of Daly City at approximately 11:20 a.m. when he died. He and another construction worker for Platinum Pipeline were focused on a 24-inch concrete storm drain at the time, according to Clyde Preston of North County Fire.

Preston says that Quiñónez and the unidentified co-worker were making their way out of the approximately 12-foot trench when it collapsed and that Quiñónez was crushed in the trench as the material caved in.

While emergency personnel was initially called to the job site to assist with a rescue, it soon became clear that they were recovering Quiñónez’s body. North County Fire was joined by numerous other agencies, including Millbrae, Central County, and South San Francisco first responders. California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA) investigators were also on scene.

Because of safety concerns over the other dirt and debris surrounding the collapsed trench, teams used specific equipment as they recovered the body. It was more than twelve hours before they accomplished the feat.

News reports say that the construction site now has posted warning signs that prohibit further work from occurring, and that the site itself has been listed as dangerous, but they do not identify who made those rulings.

Family Raising Funds to Bury Quiñónez By His Father

Quiñónez had been working in construction for less than a year, and his niece, Nitzia Sauceda, says that it was his first time on that Daly City job site.

He leaves behind a wife and four children, ages one to 13, and was just days from his 35th birthday when he was killed. Now his family is using a GoFundMe page to try to bury Quiñónez in Mexico, where his father is buried. A message, written in Spanish, on the page says that Quiñónez lost his life working to bring sustenance to his beautiful family. As of July 31, 2018, the fundraising page had raised $10,343 of its $15,000 goal.

OSHA Released Trench Safety PSA Just Weeks Before Fatal Incident

Trench-related injuries and deaths have been a recent focus of OSHA after it was announced that 23 construction workers died in trench collapses in 2016—more than the total number killed in 2014 and 2015 combined. Dr. David Michaels is the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA and expressed his concern over the rising numbers in a press release.

“There is no excuse,” Michaels said. “These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know.”

To alert employers and workers to the problem, Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta recorded a PSA in English and Spanish for the agency, in which he detailed five safety steps.

OSHA’S 5 TRENCH SAFETY TIPS

  1. Make sure that there is a safe way to enter and exit a trench before entering.

  2. Ensure the trench has cave-in protection.

  3. Keep materials away from the edge of the trench.

  4. Watch for standing water or atmospheric hazards.

  5. Only enter a trench that has been properly inspected.

Osha hopes to reduce trenching and excavation hazards by 10% by September 30, 2019, compared to 2017 totals. They aim to do this through inspections and compliance assistance at OSHA-covered workplaces.

Another California Construction Worker Killed in May Trench Collapse

Quiñónez’s death was not the first trench-related fatality in California over the last few months. An unidentified construction worker died at a Lake Forest construction site near Glenn Ranch Road and Viejo Ridge Drive. As with the recovery of Quiñónez’s body, it was a challenge for emergency personnel to recover the unnamed individual, taking approximately six hours of careful work.

Few details have been released as to the cause of that trench collapse, but the trench was 17-feet wide and 10-feet tall and that it was the side of the trench that collapsed.

What Can Workers Do?

Construction workers, both in California and throughout the U.S., are entitled to a safe workplace and the property safety steps that ensure they are not unnecessarily endangered. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Workers who’ve been injured in a trench-related incident or another construction accident may be legally entitled to compensation for their injuries and may be able to take action against unsafe employers and job sites by speaking with an experienced attorney.

If you’ve been through such an experience or have a family member who has, we encourage you to contact us to discuss what legal options may be available.

Personal injury and civil justice attorney Brooks Cutter is a leading advocate for consumer justice and protecting the rights of the severely injured. Brooks founded Cutter Law, P.C., with offices in Sacramento and Oakland, with…
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