Alaska News

State reminds construction companies to use caution after Anchorage man dies in trench collapse

State officials on Monday called on Alaska construction companies to ensure they have proper equipment and systems in place for excavation work, following the death of an Anchorage man in a trench collapse this month.

"This accident serves as a stark reminder of the serious hazards associated with construction work," said a statement from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. "Hazards associated with excavation and trenching work are preventable, yet injuries and fatalities continue to be caused by these hazards."

Samuel Adam Morgan, 23, died June 16 while working at 91st Avenue and King Street for Anchorage-based Hartman Construction & Equipment, the statement said. The Anchorage Police Department said at the time Morgan had been working on piping in a trench when the walls collapsed. His co-workers tried to dig him out, but he died at the scene, police said.

Morgan's widow, Cassie Morgan, said in an email Monday that her husband had started working for Hartman Construction at the beginning of June.

Photo: Samuel Adam Morgan; courtesy Cassie Morgan

She described him as a "loving husband, a kind friend of all and an honest, hardworking man of his word." "He was so full of life with so many ambitious dreams to include starting a family and to one day start up his own construction company," Cassie Morgan said.

Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Heidi Drygas said in a statement, "My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Morgan's family during the tragic time of loss."

"We are investigating this incident and will take appropriate enforcement action, but Alaska cannot get to zero incidents through enforcement alone," she said. "We need strong commitments from all Alaskans and industry partners. Working together, we can make sure all Alaskans go home from work safe and healthy at the end of the day."

Grey Mitchell, a director with the state's labor department, said when a trench reaches 4 feet deep, there must be ways to enter and exit. At 5 feet deep, further standards kick in, including installation of protective devices like shoring, sloping and trench boxes, to prevent cave-ins.

Mitchell said the Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides free employer consultations to identify potential workplace hazards.

He said he could not provide additional information Monday on what happened at the South Anchorage construction site that led to Morgan's death.

Alaska OSHA is continuing its investigation into Morgan's death, Mitchell said. He said the trench Morgan was working in had different depths, but he would not be more specific, saying it is a "critical factor in our investigation."

Hartman Construction did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Mitchell said the number of workers killed in excavation cave-ins in Alaska has remained low since the state stepped up enforcement about 10 years ago after a series of related deaths. He said the last fatal cave-in he recalled happened in 2010, when a Palmer man working on a water system during construction of Goose Creek Correctional Center? died after he was buried in dirt.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.