It’s unclear whether proper protections were in place at a North Raleigh construction site where a worker died Tuesday when a trench collapsed.
Harold K. Jordan & Company, which is building an apartment complex on the site near Triangle Town Center, is working with the N.C. Department of Labor to investigate the accident, said Scott Niebauer, director of business development for the Apex company.
The company “is unable to answer whether the correct equipment was in place,” Niebauer said Wednesday in an email to The News & Observer.
Sub-contractors were preparing an area for the construction of a retaining wall when the accident occurred about 11 a.m. Tuesday at the intersection of Old Wake Forest Road and Triangle Town Boulevard, Harold K. Jordan & Company said Tuesday.
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Two 911 calls made public Wednesday indicate the worker who died was buried by dirt when the trench gave way.
“Dirt has fell on somebody down in a hole,” a 911 caller said.
“It’s like a wall,” the caller explained when a dispatcher asked what happened. “But the dirt has fell off the wall.”
The deceased worker has not been publicly identified. He worked for Vertical Walls, a Raleigh company hired by Honeycutt Construction Services as a sub-contractor, according to Harold K. Jordan & Company.
Honeycutt was hired to clear, grade and pave the site ahead of construction.
Harold K. Jordan & Company requires sub-contractors to comply with federal and state safety standards, Niebauer said. The company has a safety compliance officer, he added.
Construction is among the most dangerous industries in North Carolina. In 2017, 36 private-sector construction workers died in work-related incidents, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was an increase from 30 the prior year.
At construction sites, excavating and trenching “are among the most hazardous construction operations,” according to the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
“Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities,” the administration says on its website.
In November 2012, a worker died after a construction trench collapsed on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh.
To protect against cave-ins, according to OSHA, crews should install supports to prevent soil from shifting.
It’s also important for people who receive specialized training to monitor trenching conditions, said Gentry Jones, a vice president of the Raleigh-based Paragon Safety Group, which provides workplace safety training.
“The soil’s a dangerous animal,” said Jones, adding that he couldn’t speak specifically about Tuesday’s accident. “You have no idea what’s going to happen. That’s why you have to have all these protections in place.”
On Tuesday, workers tried to dig through the dirt to reach the man who had been buried, according to the 911 callers. Dispatchers cautioned them against going into the area.
Niebauer said safety is a priority at the site, where the company is building an apartment complex called the Raleigh Piedmont.
“This jobsite will be shut down for two days to reemphasize the safety program and all safety procedures among all employees and subcontractors,” he wrote in an email to The N&O.
The N.C. Department Labor issued about a dozen violations against Harold K. Jordan & Company during five inspections between 2009 and 2017, according to public records. Some of the violations were considered “serious,” such as not having proper protections in place when workers use scaffolding.
In February 2016, the state said the company violated a rule that says workers must be protected from possible cave-ins at excavations “by an adequate protective system.”
Niebauer defended the company’s record, saying it has been fined $35,440 for safety violations dating back to 2010.
“There were six fines with 70 percent on one job site (that) has been corrected within our safety program since,” he wrote.