How to Dig Your Own Grave

June 25, 2014

In the past several weeks, a raft of trench collapse events-some most dire in their consequences-have come across my desk, prompting me to wonder just how serious we are in dealing with the situation.

First off, for those who look upon trench collapse as an opportunity to make it to the top of this year’s Darwin Award list, allow me to present you with a step-by-step approach to success:

Step One-Find some nice dirt

Step Two-Make certain your digging stick (or trowel, spade, backhoe, dragline, or excavator) is in fine fettle.

Step Three-Start digging

Step Four-Keep digging until all you can see are the walls of the trench you’ve dug

Step Five-Wait for the trench to collapse”¦you can lie down for this and text all your friends if you wish

Step Six-As the walls begin to crumble, try and remember if your will and insurance policy are up to date. Oh yes. As you savor your very last breath of air and you find you’ve had a change of heart, you might ask if the powers of the universe would allow you to insert the following into the foregoing list”¦Step Three-Point-Five-Emplace Shoring.

It’s certainly no secret that trench collapse along with falls, equipment strikes, and electric shock account for the lion’s share of construction site injuries and death according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics findings on workplace fatalities [].

Regardless of the risks involved and despite the gazillions of warning signs, lunchbox lectures, and well-intended pronouncements devoted to the subject construction worker safety, deaths and injuries are again on the rise”¦an indication that construction activities are increasing but that safety awareness isn’t.

In the case of trench collapse, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least a part of the situation bears a strong relationship to my teenage rebellion in making my bed prior to going to school. It was my mother’s idea, not mine, and the menial effort was a pain in the tail, requiring me to bend down or even get on my knees to accomplish the task in at least a rudimentary form. “Who needs that?” I challenged the gods of stupid projects despite the fact that rarely had I something more exciting or important to do before heading off to class.

But then came my stint in the Marine Corps, where mom and her unrequited request was replaced by a misanthrope in a Smokey Bear hat whose most burning desire was that our racks be made-might I mention the requirement for hospital corners and tautness sufficient to cause a quarter to rebound higher than the distance from which it was dropped-in the five minutes between reveille and muster at which I and 30 other fully shaved, showered, and spit-shined maggots fell out at rigid attention wriggling in anticipation for the day’s roster of fun and games.

Truth be told, I came to truly appreciate what benefits making a tight rack brought to my life”¦for starters genuine peace of mind as the swagger stick-toting gunnery sergeant passed me by on his way to applying his homespun logic into the ears of some other poor Dilbert whose definition of tight didn’t quite pass the mustard.

Though that lesson took place 55 years ago, it seems like only yesterday, and minus the hospital corners I find myself still spring-loaded to making my bed before heading off for my daily activities.

Now stop and think about that for just a minute.

If the mandate from a gunnery sergeant who disappeared from my sight and hearing more than half a century ago still holds sway over my actions today, and that mandate has no bearing on anything as important as my safety, what kind of magic was involved?

Well here it is in a nutshell, folks, the gunnery sergeant’s word was law, no ands, ifs or buts. No wiggle room or opportunity to put my own stamp of approval on it, there was no reason to question the situation.

And if that’s the case why cannot the same system of logic be applied to trench shoring? The Gunny never told us why we were to make our racks up in the morning, only that it was not a matter of choice. “Do it,” his 600-decibel voice accompanied by an awesome scowl commanded, “or become more miserable than you can ever believe.”

Was that more frightening than the pain of dying? You betcha! And perhaps there’s a lesson in that we can all learn.