Posted by: nedpelger | November 10, 2008

Death in a Trench

I was getting a bicycle fixed the other day at Jack’s Bike Shop and talking with the proprietor, Jack Womer. Jack retired as an OSHA inspector a few years ago. I hadn’t previously known that Jack was the primary investigator for the job site fatality of Pete Heggener in 1988 at the Lancaster General Hospital Parking Garage project.  I had just helped hire Pete a couple of months earlier as Construction Supervisor for High Construction.

That morning, Pete was in a shallow footing trench placing some rebar when the caisson drilling crew began pulling the caisson bit on the ground. But instead of pulling in a straight line, the bit began to roll sideways (as bit shaped things tend to do) and it crushed Pete in the trench that morning.

I’ll always remember seeing him in the hospital bed that night, praying and sobbing as I drove home, and learning of his death the next morning. His wife and two young sons  went through the funeral dazed.

Jack and I both remembered the details well and rehashed them. We talked about those boys growing up without their Dad. Jack also reminded me of Bob Jones, the High Industries safety director, who hammered the importance of jobsite safety into my young, thick skull. Bob said, “Cost, schedule, quality and safety are all equally important for a company, but safety is first among the equals.”

If you’re a young Construction Supervisor, I hope someone hammers you about your responsibilities to run a safe jobsite. We so easily fall into the pattern of thinking, “I did it this way before and nothing bad happened, so it’s a safe way to do it.” Please resist this anecdotal, foolish thinking and strive to honestly look at the level of safety on the site. Learn OSHA standards and try to adhere to them. Make sure safety remains the first among equals.


  1. I had almost forgot about that. I had the great pleasure of working with Pete prior to his career at High’s. He was a great guy whom I learned alot from. I can remember going to the hospital and donating blood in his name after the accident. It is funny how events such as these shape your future and even change your perspective on safety. They also put in perspective the fact that you need to live each day as though it could be your last.

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