Safety Measures Could Have Prevented Okla. Worker’s Serious Injury

December 4, 2008

A Lawton, Okla., construction worker could have been spared serious injury had a trench that collapsed onto him been properly secured by a metal box, fire and safety officials said.

Instead, the box sat unused on the site Nov. 18 as firefighters worked to free Alejandro Cabrera, 29, from beneath thousands of pounds of dirt, eyewitnesses said.

Cabrera remained in critical condition Nov. 2 at OU Medical Center. Jay Head, an assistant chief for the Lawton Fire Department, said Cabrera’s right leg has been amputated.

“I’m sure sorry he lost part of his right leg,” Head said. “But that young man probably should have died at least three times that day.

“When we got to the scene, there was nothing but an unsecured, 12-foot manhole sitting in the middle of that hole and nothing else. I noticed a metal cage sitting there, but it wasn’t in the trench.

“The lesson here – and I hope people take note of this – is this is the end result when you don’t do something right.”

Head and about four dozen other emergency workers met Dec. 2 in Lawton to assess the rescue, which took more than 14 hours.

Doug Wellhouse, the city of Lawton’s license and permit director, said the city generally requires any hole to be securely braced if it is deep enough to cover a worker’s eyes.

Head said when he got to the scene, he immediately ordered two firefighters out of the trench until its walls could be securely braced, which cost rescuers four hours, according to a report filed by Lawton firefighters.

“I took a lot of heat for that decision,” Head said. “And I didn’t want to lose Alex (Cabrera), but if those walls were going to collapse again, he was gonna die anyway. I didn’t want two of our firefighters dying in the process.”

Cabrera’s family has declined requests for interviews. He worked for Hooper Construction Inc. of Wichita Falls, Texas, which is contracted to lay sewer lines for a housing development owned by Sooner Traditions Realty LLC, a Norman-based firm.

Hooper Construction owner Chet Hooper did not immediately return calls placed on Dec. 2.

The incident is under federal investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but construction has resumed at the site.

Information from: The Oklahoman,

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