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Trench collapse deadly

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  • Rob McGee
    Trench collapse deadly BY DAVID PENN AND CHRISTIE CAMPBELL, Staff writers newsroom@observer-reporter.com A member of a crew installing stormwater lines in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2004

      Trench collapse deadly



      A member of a crew installing stormwater lines in North Franklin Township died Tuesday afternoon when the trench he was working in collapsed, burying him and another worker in clay soil. Those at the scene said the crew was not observing proper safety precautions.

      William Partin, 39, of Hoffman Drive, Oakdale, was spreading gravel at the bottom of a trench behind 194 Hazelwood Drive when the accident occurred about 1:30 p.m. Coraopolis contractor Wagner Development Co. Inc. was responsible for the project, but it was unclear Tuesday whether Partin worked for Wagner Development or a subcontractor.

      Jeff Yates, director of public safety in Washington County, estimated the trench was between 10 and 12 feet deep, and he said the workers were not using a trench shield, a device used to shore up the walls. A front-end loader was used to bring the apparatus, consisting of two broad steel panels, to the scene of the accident as a rescue effort began.

      A man working with Partin in the trench, whose name authorities did not release, was taken to Canonsburg General Hospital. Yates said he was uncertain of the extent of the man's injuries, but he was complaining of shoulder pain.

      "He got caught, too, but they were able to save him," Yates said.

      Members of four fire departments responded to the scene, along with police and public safety employees. Yates said the first crew arrived about 10 minutes after a call was made to emergency dispatchers.

      Washington County Coroner Tim Warco said Partin died of multiple injuries at 2:20 p.m. He noted it is nearly impossible to predict a trench cave-in.

      "It happens spontaneously. It's like a deep mine, when it goes," Warco said.

      Township administrator Scott Novak said the inspector for the job site, an employee of township engineering firm Englehardt Power and Associates, had documented previous failures by the crew to use a trench shield.

      "From what I've been told, it was never used," said Novak, adding that an inspector can "urge them to use it, but we can't force them to."

      A health and safety officer from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Pittsburgh office was headed to the site Tuesday afternoon. Robert Szymanski, OSHA's area director, said Leah Balya will investigate the circumstances of the accident, including work site conditions, and interview witnesses to determine if there were any OSHA violations. Szymanski said a report probably would not be completed for several months.

      OSHA's standard for trenches mandates that at or below five feet, some type of cave-in protection must be used. That could include sloping the walls back, using a trench shield or timber-and-bench shoring.

      "Our standards are the minimum safety and health standards. Employers can choose to exceed those, and many employers do," Szymanski said.

      Mark Pacilla, owner of McVehil's Corp., a plumbing business in Washington, said he requires shoring at four feet or more, similar to what local water and gas companies require. But he noted employees don't always follow the regulations, especially when it involves extra time or work.

      "Sometimes it's a day's work to put the safety wall in, so the guys cut corners to get it done. Everybody does it," he said. "We try not to put our guys in any bad spot, but the real hard fact of the matter is you can preach safety, but the guys don't always do it."

      Should Wagner Development be found at fault, OSHA would issue citations, likely with penalties for any violations, Szymanski said.

      The nearly $120,000 project, undertaken by the township, was addressing a longstanding stormwater problem in the Trinity Park housing development. Workers are to realign stormwater pipes and replace undersized pipe with uniform 36-inch lines. The project began in mid-May at Trinity Drive and continued west through the development to Hazelwood Drive, near Washington Cemetery.

      The project was about 70 percent completed, according to Doug Patterson, an engineer with Englehardt Power. Township Supervisor Carole Beck said Wagner Development had complied with all requirements in the bid process, including posting performance, maintenance and payment bonds and a certification of liability insurance.

      The township's contact with the company, Glen Wagner, was not in his office Tuesday, and a woman who answered the telephone at Wagner Development said she could provide no information regarding the accident.

      United States Mine Rescue Association
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