North Carolina: Trench Collapse Kills Taylorsville Construction Worker

Photo: Shane Sharpe, via Facebook

By Sarah Ahmed

On Wednesday, May 19, Shane Sharpe, a 38-year-old construction worker, died while working on a project to repair a drainage pipe in Taylorsville. A Tribune investigation has determined that Sharpe was a worker with Barnes Backhoe and Grading, Inc., a fact so far unmentioned in local ruling-class news coverage of the incident.

Sharpe was working on a damaged culvert in the parking lot of Big D’s Diner & Country Store. While he was working inside a ten-foot deep trench, the sides started caving in, crushing him with dirt and asphalt. Firemen were able to free him from the trench, but after CPR failed to revive Sharpe, he was pronounced dead at the scene at 2 p.m. Sharpe is survived by his fiancée and three children.

The owner of Big D’s, Don Garcia, told Tribune that when he arrived to his restaurant the morning before Sharpe’s death, he saw four construction workers on the site. Garcia, a former construction worker himself, said he was surprised that a project of that size had so few workers. He also commented on the turnaround of the project, which was less than two days and seemed rushed in his opinion.

Work permits which would confirm the contractor are not yet available for May, but according to a nearby resident familiar with the project, the contracting company was named Barnes. In a photo published in his obituary, Sharpe is seen wearing a Barnes Backhoe and Grading, Inc, t-shirt.

The North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) is in the process of investigating Sharpe’s death. During an investigation into a trench collapse, Occupational Safety and Health investigators from NCDOL will check a number of factors, including whether there was a protective system in place to prevent the trench from crushing a worker and whether someone qualified to detect hazards and authorized to stop work was present and checked the soil.

A construction worker from Taylorsville told Tribune that construction workers face pressure to meet rushed deadlines. The workers subcontract for construction companies, so when companies miss a deadline for a project, they take it out of the workers’ pay. “Shit flows downhill,” the construction worker said.

Most projects are understaffed, with one supervisor driving around in his car to check multiple sites during the day. A foreman, when present, only ensures that workers meet project deadlines, and usually does not have any special training to ensure that work sites are safe for workers. “[The foreman’s] basically just another worker,” the worker said.

The construction worker was also critical of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and said they haven’t actually decreased the rate of workplace injuries, but have only increased reporting. OSHA may fine companies for something minor like using a ladder made with the wrong material, while ignoring the rushed project deadlines which present a major risk to workers’ safety.

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