Houston Trench Collapse Victim Saved After 1-Hour Entrapment, Suffers Minor InjuriesJanuary 20, 2023
Sewer Line Worker Entrapped in a Collapsed Hole, Rescue Complicated by Several Factors
On Friday, January 20, 2023, a sewer line worker in west Houston was suddenly trapped at the bottom of a 10-foot-deep trench after an unexpected cave-in. Just before 11:00 a.m., the Houston Fire Department (HFD) received an emergency call about the trench collapse, with more than 75 firefighters and other personnel responding to the scene at 6102 Riverview Way, just north of Woodway Dr.
While the victim has since been rescued, authorities are continuing to investigate what exactly caused this trench collapse, what could have been done to prevent it, and how similar accidents can be avoided in the future.
Rescue Faces Multiple Challenges, Ends in Success
When the rescue crew arrived at the trench collapse, they discovered that the victim was not alone at the site. Two other workers were there as well, and they had already attempted to excavate the trapped man using a backhoe. When those efforts failed, they called in HFD — and authorities then called in the local gas company due to concerns that gas lines could be near the rescue zone.
Beyond that, the dirt was reportedly saturated with water due to morning rains and:
- The victim’s foot was pinned down beneath heavy dirt and debris: Consequently, rescue teams were forced to dig below the man, so they could free his foot.
- There were serious concerns that the trench would collapse even more: The combination of heavy equipment and wet, unmoored dirt raised the risk of further cave-ins. Firefighters on the scene carefully monitored shifts in dirt throughout the tricky excavation efforts.
- Rescuers worried the victim would suffocate: Some emergency medical crew actually descended into the 10-foot-deep trench, staying with the trapped worker to monitor his vital signs and make sure he didn’t suffocate as the dirt removal occurred.
Despite those challenges, emergency teams worked diligently for just over an hour, removing enough dirt, without additional cave-ins, reportedly freeing the victim at 12:08 p.m.
The brief clip below from ABC New’s SkyEye shows the rescue efforts and some of the intensive work that went into saving the victim’s life.
As soon as the victim’s foot was freed, crew lifted him from the trench, placed him on a stretcher, and immediately transported him to a local hospital. According to authorities, the victim reportedly suffered only minor injuries in this trench collapse.
@HoustonFire Update: The person trapped in the trench has been rescued by HFD. HFD is transporting the patient to a nearby emergency room with minor injuries. No other injuries have been reported. @FireChiefofHFD pic.twitter.com/3brUhzLHkK
— Houston Fire Dept (@HoustonFire) January 20, 2023
No Oversight for Trench Excavation, OSHA Investigation Underway
Currently, little is known about what caused the trench collapse. Still, HFD reported that the victim had been trying to fortify the trench walls when the collapse occurred.
Perhaps more revealing, HFD also reportedly told a local news station that the 3-man sewer line crew had zero oversight during their excavation activities and when the trench caved in.
Notably, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has several standards and guidelines regarding trench safety.
While it’s unclear whether the workers involved in this incident — or their employer — complied with any applicable standards related to trenching and excavation, we may soon have the answer to that because OSHA has initiated its own investigation into this incident.
As regulators eagerly seek the rest of the answers the public awaits, this incident is yet another stark reminder of how trench collapses and work accidents can occur suddenly and in the absence of any oversight, putting workers’ lives at risk.