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Father's Company Fined In Trench Death Of Son

Nov 12, 2003 | Greenville News An Anderson construction company failed to provide safe working conditions for two employees working in trench that collapsed and killed the owner's son, the state licensing board found.

Wham Brothers Construction was fined $4,325 for failing to have a system in place to protect workers from cave-ins and for not inspecting the site daily or requiring employees to wear hard hats. The company also did not remove large clay clumps on the edge of the trench, have a ladder or stairs into the trench or hold regular hazard training, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation decision.

Norman "Tripp" Wham was putting the last piece of pipe in a nine-foot-deep trench when a wall collapsed and suffocated him on Oct. 3, according to the report.

Wham's father or other company officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Wham, 30, was the project manager for building a stormwater culvert on Cleveland Street when the trench collapsed. He was the younger of two children of Jane and Norman Wayne Wham Jr. of Anderson. He was called Tripp to distinguish him from his father and grandfather, for whom he was named.

A former football player a T.L. Hanna High School and member of New Covenant Presbyterian Church, he met his wife Jennifer at work. They married five years ago, and had a daughter, Dawson, 3.

Federal law governs work in trenches, Jerald Martin, president of Martin Engineering Consultants, told The Greenville News.

The main guideline is making sure there is a trench box a steel brace-like device at the bottom or the dirt around it is stepped away from the bottom if the hole is more than 4 feet deep, he said.

Wham's death was the sixth in the state since last December after a period of 23 months without a trench fatality, state records show.

On average, 126 people nationwide died in cave-ins each year between 1997 and 2002, according to figures compiled by the Census of Fatal and Occupational Injuries.

According to a study by Purdue University Professor Dulcy Abraham, most trench accidents are the result of poor planning.

"Trenches with improper protection systems or no systems at all are in high risk of cave-in," the Abraham study found. Safety procedures are often discussed but not followed, the study found.

According to the investigation report, Wham and another workers were unhooking the last piece of pipe that was being lowered by a trackhoe when the wall collapsed. The other man was struck in the leg, but got out.

Wham's father and two other workers jumped in to save him, but he was buried too deep, according to authorities.

Rescue workers worked almost four hours to save him, but shortly before 7 p.m., Wham was pronounced dead.

The company could have been fined up to $7,000 for each violation, said Jim Knight, labor department spokesman. The employer's size and safety records are considered when setting the amount of a fine, he said.

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