March 1, 2012
More than 600 construction crafts workers, foremen, superintendents and representatives from unions and government agencies came together at Orlando Gardens Banquet Center in south St. Louis for the area's largest construction safety event. This year's theme was "Safety Tool Box" and featured a power- and hand-tools giveaway.
The keynote speaker for the evening was a rare survivor of a trench collapse, Eric Giguere of Safety Awareness Solutions. He was buried alive while digging a 5-foot deep trench in 2002.
"I was 27 and thought I was bulletproof," Giguere told CNR.
He had gotten married just six days before, and he was looking forward to his honeymoon, when a wall of dirt came down on him. Soil filled his mouth and he lost consciousness. The crew he was on was digging a ditch with a backhoe and had accidentally cut throw a small drainage line. Giguere jumped down into the ditch to clean out around the cut while his partner ran to the truck to get a coupler for repairing the line.
"It wasn't more than 50-60 seconds, when suddenly it collapsed. I screamed and everything went black," Giguere said.
When rescuers uncovered him 10 minutes later, his mouth and nose were filled with dirt, his face was blue, and he wasn't breathing.
"I was dead," he said. Co-workers cleaned out his mouth and were desperately trying to blow air into his lungs before the paramedics arrived to take over. After the paramedics revived him, he spent eight days in the hospital followed by two-and-a-half years of therapy, he said.
"What saved me is that the ground was cold and wet, and that kept oxygen in my blood," he said.
Giguere had been a union laborer for five years when the accident happened, but most of that time hadn't worked on trenches. He had begun his career at a guide drill company and then had done some building and heavy highway construction. He had begun a new job digging ditches that year and had started with shallow trenches.
Giguere said he knew about the dangers of trench collapses, but "it just happened that the jobs gradually got deeper," he said. "We were comfortable being down in trenches and didn't thing anything about it," he said.
Giguere went through a rough period after he was finally able to go back to work. It was hard to get a job again, he said, because his brain damage made him more of a liability than employers wanted to take on. The stress broke up his marriage. And the nightmares from his time suffocating in the dark still keep him away from swimming pools and out of movie theaters.
Now, he tries to help other people learn from his experience.
"Nobody thinks it will happen to him, but I'm trying to get people to realize that it can," he said. "The lesson here is don't take short cuts. It only takes a second for disaster to strike."
"The Construction Safety Awards Banquet presents our skilled union construction workforce with safety certificates for working all year without a single accident," said Len Toenjes, president of the AGC of St. Louis. "A safe workplace allows our crafts workers to return home to their families each night and truly affects the bottom line of our contractor members and the owners of the project."