A South Dakota worker who was completely buried in a trench collapse earlier this year survived only because co-workers were able to free his head, allowing him to breathe while emergency personnel worked for more than 30 minutes to free him.

OSHA has cited First Dakota Enterprises Inc. for two repeat and one serious safety violations in connection with the incident. The Fort Pierre-based company faces proposed penalties of $95,064.

The 34-year-old man was working in a 14-foot trench when it collapsed around him on May 23, 2017.

No protective system or inspections

OSHA investigators determined that First Dakota Enterprises Inc., failed to use a trench protective system or conduct regular site inspections to correct potentially hazardous conditions. The company had been contracted by the City of Emery to replace the city’s main sewer and water lines.

Trench collapses are among the most dangerous hazards in the construction industry. As of June 1, 2017, 15 workers have died in trench collapses. In 2016, a total of 23 deaths occurred in trench and excavation operations.


“Trench collapses are preventable,” said OSHA Area Director Sheila Stanley in Sioux Falls. “It is critical that employers involved in excavation work review their safety procedures to ensure that employees are properly protected and trained. Had it not been for the heroic actions of these co-workers, this dangerous collapse may have ended in tragedy.”

Trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet, and soil and other materials kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. OSHA offers a wide range of resources and guidance information on its trenching and excavations page. Learn more about OSHA’s e-tool for safe excavation and trenching.