Safety device not present at Powell trench collapse, officials say

After an hours-long rescue, first responders freed two construction workers from a collapsed trench at a Powell construction site.
A trench box can prevent soil cave-ins, according to instructions from TOSHA.
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 12:37 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2022 at 3:22 PM EST
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POWELL, Tenn. (WVLT) - One construction worker was released from the hospital and the other is recovering at the University of Tennessee Medical Center after being freed from a trench collapse Thursday night. The rescue took hours and required responders from multiple agencies.

Two construction workers were trapped after a trench collapse at a site off of E. Beaver Creek Drive in Powell just after noon on Thursday.

Seventy responders from Rural Metro Fire, the Knoxville Fire Department and Knoxville Volunteer Trench Rescue Team responded to the scene off of E. Beaver Creek Drive just after noon on Thursday. Rural Metro Captain Jeff Bagwell said that the workers were likely trapped while laying utility pipes in the trench.

After observing additional scene photos, Bagwell confirmed to WVLT News that a piece of safety equipment, a trench box, was not in the area where the victims were buried in the soil.

According to trenching instructions from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA), multiple requirements must be met to safely dig trenches five feet deep or greater. Inserting a trench shield or box is one of those requirements.

A trench box can prevent soil cave-ins, according to TOSHA’s website. A report is expected following the investigation, however, a representative said it could take months for it to be released.

Powell Trench Collapse
Powell Trench Collapse(WVLT)

Rescuers worked for over five hours before freeing the first worker, who was buried completely in soil except for one hand. Shortly after, they were able to make contact with a second person who was buried 12-15 feet under the dirt. Officials said they were reportedly able to free him after laying on their stomachs and digging with hand tools.

The long-term rescue was due to the nature of the incident. Loose dirt from recent weather created the potential for a secondary collapse, according to Captain Bagwell, so crews were forced to work slowly. He said rescuers began with shoring up the dirt around the trapped workers to prevent more collapses while other teams began moving the dirt off the trapped people.

“It is a slow, methodical digging process,” Captain Bagwell said.

Although it was an hours-long effort, Bagwell said that both men were freed much sooner than expected after officials used vacuum trucks, which are normally used to remove leaves from roadways, to move dirt quickly.

An English-Spanish communication barrier also created issues during the rescue as Rural Metro officials had to interpret what the workers were telling first responders.

Both were transported to UTMC, where one was released and the other remains in recovery, according to Bagwell. The recovering worker is at the UTMC Trauma Center being monitored for Compartment syndrome, an ailment that can develop after being pressed on by large amounts of weight for an extended time.

Bagwell did not release the identities of the two men, but he did share with WVLT News that they were both in their 30s.

Powell Trench Collapse

Two trapped following trench collapse in Powell.

Posted by WVLT on Thursday, January 13, 2022

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