Tenn. Contractor Faces $75K Penalty for Fatal Trench Collapse

Me Photo Headshot
Updated Feb 16, 2024
collapsed trench knoxville tenn. where worker died
The scene of a trench collapse July 10, 2023, where a worker died. His employer, Design One Building Systems Inc., faces penalties totaling $74,650.
Rural Metro Fire

A Tennessee contractor faces $74,650 in penalties after a worker died in a trench collapse on a sewer line project.

At 12:10 p.m. July 10, a worker was shoveling gravel at the bottom of a 10-foot-deep trench in Knox County near Knoxville when a side of the trench collapsed and covered him, according to the Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Administration. He was crushed to death, TOSHA reports.

The man, who was not identified, worked for Design One Building Systems Inc. of Knoxville.

According to Rural Metro Fire, workers had used an excavator to try to uncover the worker. When responders arrived, he was uncovered to the waist, but was dead. He was removed from the trench by 6:30 p.m., the fire department reported.

The area where the collapse occurred was wet and collapsed while the worker was trying to escape the trench by ladder, according to news station WBIR. The station cites TOSHA’s report, which says that during the more than three-month project there had been multiple collapses at the trench.

According to online investigative records, Design One Building Systems was cited with a willful violation of not providing adequate cave-in protection for the trench, such as a trench box. It was also cited with serious violations for not keeping spoil piles or equipment at least 2 feet away from the trench edge and not providing proper inspections of the trench before workers entered and throughout the day. There were also serious violations concerning head protection and safety training.  

A willful violation is when “the employer either knowingly failed to comply with a legal requirement (purposeful disregard) or acted with plain indifference to employee safety,” according to OSHA.

“Serious” violations are defined by OSHA as existing “when the workplace hazard could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not know or could not have known of the violation.”

Trench Safety Osha GraphicOSHA