Mississippi Official Says Collapsed Trench Lacked Safety Devices

March 24, 2008

The Forrest County, Miss., coroner says no required safety devices were being used in a collapsed trench that killed three workers at the Hattiesburg-Forrest County Industrial Park.

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials will lead the investigation of the March 21 accident. The investigation could take up to six months, said Clyde Payne, area director for the Jackson office of OSHA.

Coroner Butch Benedict identified the dead as Leonardo Navarro Diaz, 30, of Sumrall; Brandon Edward Rathbone, 19, of Hattiesburg; and Wayne Dale Kelly, 55, of Columbia.

The men were employed by subcontractor American Air Specialists, said Robert Pickering, Hattiesburg Fire Department battalion chief.

Officials say the workers were connecting sewer lines at the new Sam’s Club distribution center under construction when the cave-in occurred.

The men were buried under about eight feet of dirt and wet clay, city officials said.

Payne said the primary ways for people to remain safe while working in trenches include cutting back the trench wall, installing aluminum hydraulic support mold or using a trench box – a steel or wooden device that prevents the soil from caving in.

Payne said employers are responsible for providing safe work places.

“That may vary depending on the kind of industry you’re in,” he said.

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