Working below ground is an unusually dangerous occupation. From miners to pipeline construction workers, the earth presents a constant hazard to anyone who descends below the surface. One of the biggest risks is the uncertain nature of the surrounding soil. Some soil deposits are naturally stable and present only a small risk to workers, while other types of soil are inherently unstable and threaten the worker with a high risk of collapse and injury or death.
Workers on a 24-inch storm drain pipeline in Daly City received a painful lesson in these risks on July 27 when the trench they were working in collapsed and caused a workplace fatality. The accident occurred at about 11:00 a.m. Two men were working in the trench when it apparently gave signs of collapsing. The workers attempted to escape but only one made it. The other worker was buried alive in the trench and presumed dead. As of 10:15 p.m. on the evening of the day of the accident, rescue workers still had not recovered his body. The trench was about 12 feet deep, but rescue workers did not know how deep the worker had been buried.
The deceased worker was an employee of Platinum Pipeline. Authorities have not disclosed his duties or why he was working in the trench. Authorities have also declined to identify any other companies that may have been working at the site. Rescue workers pointed to the sandy and infirm nature of the surrounding soil as creating a need to use specialized rescue equipment intended for confined space rescues. The unstable nature of the soil raises the possibility that special equipment would have been required to protect the workers; the cave-in raises the possibility that such equipment was not in use when the collapse occurred.
Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a workplace collapse may wish to explore the possibility of recovering workers' compensation benefits. If the accident was caused in whole or in part by a party who was not the worker's employer, a claim can be made against that party without regard to the limitations that apply to workers' compensation benefits. Such cases can be complicated, and the advice of an experienced workers' compensation attorney can be very helpful.