Authorities said the safety device was not in use when a trench collapse killed a man near Breckenridge

Emergency crews are pictured on November 16 at Sallie Barber Road, near Breckenridge, where a trench collapse killed 20-year-old Marlon Diaz and partially buried another person who was rescued. The metal structure in the photo is a steel trench box, which is typically used to support the wall of a trench to prevent it from collapsing.
Red, white and blue light district fire protection / Courtesy photo

It has been more than three weeks since a trench collapse along Sallie Barber Road killed 20-year-old Marlon Diaz and partially buried another person. Details of the incident remain scarce as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigates.

But one thing is clear: A steel box meant to protect workers from a trench collapse was not in use when emergency responders arrived at the scene on November 16.

Drew Hoehn, deputy chief of operations for the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District, reported that when the district arrived around 4:15 p.m., the steel trench box – used to support the trench walls – n was not in the trench but was sitting near the site. Hoehn said it appeared crew members were working in an unprotected hole at the time of the incident.

According to on the OSHA website, trenches 5 feet deep or more require a protection system unless the excavation is done entirely in stable rock. Trenches 20 feet deep or more require the protection system to be designed by a licensed professional engineer.

Different protection systems available in this line of work are described on the OSHA website, and one of them includes shielding measures, which protect workers by using trench boxes or other types. supports to prevent subsidence of the ground.

Moses Alvarez, director of training for the Colorado Contractors Association, said most holes are at risk of collapsing and these boxes are just one measure that can be used to keep a trench stable. Other methods include shoring, benching, and shielding. It is not known if any of these other methods were in place on the day of the incident.

Alvarez said that a trench box is primarily used as a shield to protect the crews. Once a hole is dug, the box is placed inside the hole and serves as a guardrail. While using the box takes a bit longer to set up and set up, Alvarez noted that it is required by OSHA.

“It’s a very simple activity, but it’s also – sometimes – a much longer operation than not using it, and that’s where contractors or people doing excavation and digging operations of trenches feel that the speed at which they can work without the trench box compensates for the need not to use it, ”Alvarez said. “Obviously, this is not correct because in the event that something does happen, it is necessary, even if it takes longer to get the job done. “

While at the scene, Hoehn observed that the steel crate appeared to be wider than the one the trench crews were working in. Alvarez said if the hole was too small to use the trench box, other methods, such as shoring, could be used instead. Shoring involves the use of rods to support the side of the hole and sometimes includes some sort of covering for additional reinforcement.

Regardless of the method used to keep the walls of a hole stable, it is extremely important that something be done to protect crews while they are working. Alvarez pointed out that dirt is heavy and even a small amount can cause significant damage.

“The easiest way to figure out the size (a cubic yard of dirt) is that it is the size of a washing machine: about 3 feet high, 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep.” , said Alvarez. “A washing machine is heavy, but it doesn’t even compare to dirt. A cubic meter of soil can typically weigh almost 3,000 pounds. It’s an extremely heavy weight, and generally speaking, we don’t dig too (small) holes. We are digging much bigger holes than that.

Questions about what security protocols, if any, were in place remain unanswered, as does the training Diaz received before the incident happened. The 20-year-old was from Honduras and Alvarez said he wondered what significant training Diaz received before he started working, especially if Spanish was his mother tongue. Alvarez noted that it is required by OSHA to give appropriate training in a language the worker understands before starting work.

“Marlon may not have had any context to understand what danger he was in, as it may not have been explained in his native language,” Alvarez said.

Paul Camillo, a local contractor, said that in his experience, most contractors work with subcontractors to ensure safety protocols are followed. Camillo is the owner of Anthony Ryan & Associates in Silverthorne and is vice chairman of the executive committee of the Summit County Builders Association.

“We are looking at what is required and how they plan to do it and what is involved and what kind of equipment they are going to use, and we talk about their safety and we make sure no one gets hurt,” Camillo said. . “It’s the # 1 priority in any job. There is nothing worth hurting someone.

Camillo said that while incidents do occur from time to time in the local industry, there are few fatalities. To his knowledge, the last time there was a death was in 2017 when Cort Michael Dursey, 20, was killed after a rotomill paver crushed him while backing up during resurfacing work on Colorado Highway 9.

At the time of the recent incident in November, Eagle County-based A4S Construction was completing excavation work to install utilities for a new subdivision on the site, called Trails at Berlin Placer. Development has been underway since at least 2017 and when completed will include 14 single-family homes at market price in addition to at least 20 affordable housing units for the workforce.

Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said his team was still waiting for the toxicology report to conclude Diaz’s autopsy before the inquest could move forward. While drugs and alcohol are not suspected to be involved, her team must complete a full report as they are working with OSHA on the investigation. Wood said his office had heard little from the OSHA office in Denver, which is taking the lead in this matter.

An OSHA representative said information on the case would not be available until the investigation was completed. Wood said cases like this typically take months, if not nearly a year, to reach an investigative conclusion.

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