A 37-year-old Hesperia man died on the job after a trench collapsed around him while he worked on an underground power line in Banning, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported. Martin Samaniego’s crew from Riverside contractor Pouk & Steinle Inc. was reportedly working on an electrical line on a Banning street when the trench collapsed. Samaniego was trapped seven feet under. He suffocated and died on the scene, the newspaper reported.
A spokesman for the company told the newspaper that they have not yet determined what caused the trench to give way. According to the article, Samaniego was the sole breadwinner of his family, supporting his wife, Maria, and 2-year-old daughter. Family members, who were in apparent shock over the tragic accident, are still gathering money for Samaniego’s funeral, the article said. The industrial accident is being investigated by the California Department of Occupational Safety and Health (CAL-OSHA), the Banning Police Department and Pouk & Steinle, Samaniego’s employer.
Trench cave-ins are unfortunately common industrial accidents that cause death and injury. Over a five-year period, from 2001 to 2005, 26 Californians have been killed in trench collapse injuries and 207 injured in such incidents, according to CAL-OSHA’s Web site. In almost every instance of trench collapse, the cause was a failure to shore up the trench properly, the agency says.
When it comes to trenches, the state spells out very specific regulations. Every time a worker enters an excavation 5 feet or deeper, companies need to obtain a permit for the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). The state agency requires employers to competently conduct daily inspections of the trench and safety systems. Constant attention must be paid to how stable the soil is. For example, the more liquid the soil, the more likely it is to cave in. Other preventive steps include not parking heavy vehicles next to the trench and paying attention to changing weather patterns.
In California, every employer has a legal obligation to provide and maintain and safe and healthy workplace for employees, according to the California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973. The employer in this Banning case will probably be fined by CAL-OSHA for failing to properly shore up the trench. Not only does the family have rights to Workers’ Compensation benefits, but they may have a third party lawsuit as well.
The family of the deceased worker certainly needs a personal injury attorney on their side to investigate this matter. The construction contractor has no doubt already started their investigation with their insurance company and attorneys. The victim’s family definitely needs a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney fighting for and protecting their legal rights and getting them the compensation they rightfully deserve.