Rescue attempt makes cave-in worse

by on April 12, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

In a cave-in situation, would-be rescuers can become victims themselves. Make sure rescue procedures protect everyone.

“Dave Donahue got hurt because he was trying to be a hero and help someone else,” Mike Chen, a construction site supervisor, told Safety Director Bob Greenwood.

“I know he was trying to do a good thing,” said Bob. “But when one part of a trench collapses, it’s very likely that another part will follow – and that’s exactly what happened. Both Dave and George were seriously injured.”

“I know; it was pretty bad,” Mike replied. “I’ve already heard Dave is going to sue and argue something about inadequate cave-in protection.”

Two instead of one
“Is he right?” Bob asked.

“No,” said Mike. “Besides, Dave wasn’t down in the trench, he was operating the excavator. As I said, he went in the trench after it collapsed on George.”

“And then the trench collapsed again, so we had to rescue two people instead of one,” Bob said. “It’s a good thing more people weren’t down there.”

“It’s hard to wait for the right equipment and the rescue team,” Mike said. “But we drum the rescue procedures into everyone’s heads for a reason. Are we covered if we’re sued?”

“I hope so,” Bob said.

Dave sued. Did the company win?

Judge’s decision
No, the company lost at a first trial, when a jury found it 100% at fault. But the company got the verdict reversed on appeal – and the case needs to be retried.

The appeals court said at the new trial, the company could introduce evidence that Dave was partially at fault for his injuries.

What you can do
As supervisor, you can avoid this near-endless legal wrangling by preventing these kinds of accidents.


  • Start by identifying potential cave-in spots, and make sure trench boxes, shoring and banking is in place according to the soil type.
  • Always keep rescue equipment on hand, such as breathing apparatus, safety harnesses, ropes, and basket stretchers.
  • Consider training employee rescue teams by simulating a cave-in, deploying the rescue equipment, removing the victim, and then treating the victim until emergency help arrives.

Cite: Archambault v. Soneco/Northeastern.

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