Man rescued from trench collapse, treated for minor injuries

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 30, 2014

Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors are investigating a trench collapse in West Bloomfield after a construction worker was rescued July 29.

According to West Bloomfield Fire Chief Jay Wiseman, the Fire Department received a report of a construction accident where a worker was trapped in a trench that was about 9 feet deep, 4-6 feet wide and 100 feet long on Middlebelt Road, south of Lone Pine Road.

Wiseman said that the 39-year-old man is a private contractor and was in the trench working on “some type of utility connection.” When the man saw the edge of the trench start to collapse where he was standing, he reportedly ran 4-5 feet, but there was an identical collapse there that buried him. Wiseman believes the man was in an air pocket because his coworkers could hear him yelling from underneath the rubble, and they began digging him out by hand.

“What typically happens when you have a trench collapse like this, about 80 percent of the time there will be a secondary collapse. This is an exact representation of that,” Wiseman said.

Two West Bloomfield fire stations and the technical rescue team responded to the scene within four minutes, but by the time they had arrived, coworkers had dug the man out of the trench.

“Literally as we were pulling up, the victim was climbing up the ladder ... on his own,” Wiseman said, adding that paramedics then moved him onto a backboard and began treating him on the scene.

At that point, Wiseman said, the man appeared to have potential head and neck injuries, so he was transported to Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. The Fire Department later heard that the the man had suffered minor injuries.

The trench was reportedly unstable and continued to collapse while the Fire Department secured the area. Recent weather and conditions of the soil contributed to the collapse, Wiseman said.

This is not the first trench collapse in West Bloomfield, and this past spring, the Fire Department’s technical rescue team and mutual aid partners completed a trench-rescue training session at the Water and Sewer Department. Wiseman said their training scenario closely mimicked the July 29 collapse.

“The risk in a trench is obviously the traumatic injuries that come about from … the weight of the soil immediately collapsing on you,” Wiseman said, adding that the weight of the soil can crush a person’s chest or cause significant head trauma.

In the event of trench collapses in the future, Wiseman said that bystanders and coworkers should be cautious when attempting to dig someone out, and while people’s actions may be well intended, people put themselves in immediate risk for becoming trapped. In addition, there is also the potential for trenches to contain toxic gases and fumes.

Andrea Miller, communications representative with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, confirmed that the MIOSHA is conducting an investigation, which can take weeks or months to complete. Until the investigation is over, Miller could not release any other information.