The Proposition O stormwater work site on Temescal Canyon Road, where one man lost his life and another suffered serious injuries, remains closed as the California State Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal OSHA) investigates the cause of the deadly trench collapse.
Last Thursday afternoon, one man was airlifted to the hospital and the second, Gilbert Vargas, was declared dead after dirt filled the 15-ft. excavation pit just above Pacific Coast Highway.
The project, when finished, will help the City of L.A. comply with Environmental Protection Agency and federal Clean Water Act regulations by diverting stormwater away from Santa Monica Bay.
“We are investigating the death and have six months to complete our investigation,” said Peter Melton of Cal OSHA. After firefighters finished the rescue effort, an OPU (order prohibiting use) went into effect.
“An OPU means they [construction workers] can’t work until the danger is gone or the hazardous condition is fixed,” Melton told the Palisadian-Post. Before the work site can be reopened the employer has to submit a plan to Cal OSHA to let them know of planned safety steps.
Fire stations 69 and 23 received the emergency call at 1:34 p.m. that two workers were trapped. According to LAFD spokesperson Erik Scott, the first man was buried nearly up to his hips, conscious but unable to escape, and the second was buried up to his chest, unconscious and not breathing.
The first man was rescued, stabilized and then transported via 69 Station paramedics to an air support helicopter in the Will Rogers Beach parking lot shortly after 3 p.m. At UCLA, his condition was called serious, but stable.
The body of the second worker, Vargas, was recovered eight hours later after a massive recovery effort.
The two men, who worked for a City contractor, L.A. Engineering, were excavating the ground with backhoes when the accident happened. A trench was being dug to hold two pipes: a 16-inch discharge main force pipe, which would transport water from the detention tank to a sewer line and then to the Hyperion Water treatment plant, and a 30-inch reinforced concrete pipe that would allow water to go back to the storm drain and into the bay, once the detention tank is full.
Shortly after the first man was rescued, assistant chief of the North Division Kwame Cooper announced that Vargas had died.
“It is now established as a crime scene,” he told the Post, noting that the recovery of the body could take hours because proper shoring would have to be done in order to prevent further collapse of dirt.
As bright daylight went to night, three sets of stadium-style lights were brought to the site, illuminating the canyon, as workers continued their attempt to recover the body.
Shortly before 10 p.m., a circle of workers could be observed at the site, almost as if in prayer. A short while later Vargas, wrapped in a sheet, was brought out of the ground and turned over to the Los Angeles County Coroner.
In August 2010, a trench collapse at a townhouse off Palisades Drive claimed the life of Gualfer Lopez-Reyes. He was a member of a contracting crew that had dug out an L-shaped, 8 ft. by 8 ft. by 11 ft. deep trench to install a French drain, which collapsed on him.
As a result of that OSHA investigation, the company, McGrath Contracting, was fined more than $75, 000 for safety violations for failing to properly shore the trench.
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