OSHA investigating 5 trench deaths occurring in less than 10 days

Me Photo Headshot
Updated May 4, 2019
Rescue workers respond to a trench collapse in Spencer, Tennessee, that killed a city utility worker. Photo credit: Putnam County Rescue SquadRescue workers respond to a trench collapse in Spencer, Tennessee, that killed a city utility worker. Photo credit: Putnam County Rescue Squad

Three workers died in trench collapses between April 2 and 8 – two in Ohio and one in Tennessee.

Then on April 10, two men died in a trench collapse in Idaho, one of whom was a father of five with another child on the way.

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration is investigating all four incidents.


2 deaths in 2 days

In Ohio, where a $20 million lawsuit was recently filed following a 2017 trench death, two workers died in separate cave-ins within two days of each other.

On April 6, Dalbert Burton was working on a residential sewer installation in Sugarcreek Township when the 14-foot-deep trench he was in collapsed.

A neighbor saw that a backhoe at the site had been left running and saw someone at the bottom of the trench. Emergency responders determined he had died before they arrived. The trench had not been shored.

Burton, 43, was working for Dayton-based Payne Enterprises, which has a history of trench safety violations. OSHA fined the company $7,606 for four serious violations stemming from excavation safety violations on May 3, 2017. OSHA later fined the company $10,670 for violations on September 4, 2018, including two repeat violations for trench safety.

Burton is survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren.

Two days after Burton’s death, Christopher Reid McDonald died in a 20-foot-deep trench in Marysville, Ohio. He was working for J&J Schlaegel of Urbana on April 8 on a project to relocate a water line.

Fire officials reported the trench was not shored, and it took two hours to recover McDonald’s body, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

J&J Schlaegel has also been fined in the past for trench safety violations. The company was fined $1,428 for a serious violation April 29, 2015, according to OSHA records.

McDonald, 34, is survived by two children and his fiancée.


Father of 5, worker die in trench

On April 10, two men were in a trench on an irrigation-pipe installation job in New Plymouth, Idaho, when the trench collapsed on them.

Javier “Jay” Ortega Jr., 59, of New Plymouth, and Arcenio Carrillo, 51, of Vale, Oregon, died in a trench that did not have shoring or other protective devices, a sheriff’s officer told The Argus Observer.

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers
How High Fuel Prices hurt Your Business
Presented by EquipmentWatch
8 Crucial Elements of a Tire Safety Program
Presented by Michelin North America
Selecting the Correct Construction Tire Solution
Presented by Michelin North America

OSHA has opened an investigation into irrigation company Sherman Sales Inc. of Ontario, Oregon, for the incident, according to OSHA records. The trench was 6 to 7 feet deep, according to the Idaho Press.

Ortega is survived by a wife and five children, and his wife is expecting to deliver their sixth child in less than two months, according to a GoFundMe page for the family. Ortega was a retired U.S. Marine master sergeant, and his family is well-known in the local livestock community, which is holding fundraisers for both men’s families, the Idaho Press reports. Ortega was not actually hired for the job but was helping a friend, the GoFundMe page says.


City worker dies

On April 2, city of Spencer, Tennessee, utility department worker Mickey Fisher was called to a water leak after a pipe was accidentally struck by workers installing a culvert for the Van Buren County highway department.

Fisher, 31, was working in the trench to repair the pipe when the trench collapsed. His body was recovered more than four hours later. He is survived by a son.

For more on the business and human costs of trench-collapse fatalities in the United States, see Equipment World’s special report “Death by Trench”.