Trench collapse survivor tells his story to save others

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

“It was pitch black,” Eric Giguere told a rapt audience at our 2019 Ohio Safety Congress & Expo. “It was like I was hit by a truck going 70 mph.”

He was describing what it was like being buried alive under about 2,000 pounds of dirt in a trench that was six feet deep.

Giguere started the day, Oct. 4, 2002, looking forward to leaving for his honeymoon that afternoon; he ended the day on life support in the intensive care unit of an upstate New York hospital.

“I was 27 years old with a terrible attitude toward safety. I didn’t speak up about unsafe working conditions. I was OK with taking shortcuts,” he said. “That’s why I ended up buried in that trench.” But he wasn’t the only one taking shortcuts that day. His employer had Giguere and his colleagues working in a trench that was six feet deep without trench boxes and other safety measures.

“We got comfortable doing things the wrong way. For what? To cut corners. To save time,” he said. “Well, all it took was a split second to forever change my life and to put my co-workers in the horrible position of having to make a life-or-death decision to help save me.”

One of those co-workers used a backhoe to remove the top layer of dirt from the collapsed trench, knowing that if the bucket struck Giguere, it could kill him.

After 10 minutes of digging frantically by hand, his colleagues eventually uncovered his lifeless body. They began CPR even as he was partially buried. A life flight helicopter transported him to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.

His wife, who he had married just six days earlier, waited with family members as Giguere’s life hung in the balance. Doctors told them even if he survived, he would likely be severely brain damaged. He would make a miraculous recovery, but it was accompanied by recurring nightmares, fear of dark, enclosed spaces, and forgetfulness.

Cognitive and psychological therapy has helped him recover over time. These days, you’d never know from his outward appearance and demeanor that he suffered such a life-altering event. But it hasn’t been without hardship.

Ultimately, his marriage could not withstand the aftermath of the accident. “In some ways, the man that my wife had married less than a week before never came out of the bottom of that trench,” he said.

However, his second chance at life has given him the opportunity to influence the lives of others in a powerful way. He founded his own company, Safety Awareness Solutions, and he’s shared his story with thousands of workers in the U.S. and internationally with the goal of raising safety awareness.

“The chance to speak with others regarding my accident gives my life a great sense of fulfillment,” he says. “If you learn something and you don’t share it with somebody, it does no good to learn it. I want to share my story, as an average guy, to others in hopes that maybe they’ll realize I’m just like this guy. He did the same things I have done. Maybe I better not do that, or I could end up just like him.”

The BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

In addition, the following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

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