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Death of 30-year-old Belton plumber prompts big turnout for trench safety course

GRANDVIEW, Mo. -- Contractors, first responders and utility crews are learning Thursday how to work safely under the ground.

The training is in response to a recent trench collapse in Belton, Mo., that claimed the life of a 30-year-old plumber.

About 100 professionals from all around the metro area showed up because they're sick of seeing workers get killed when they climb down into a trench.

Donald "DJ" Meyer and his son Ashten.

Donald "DJ" Meyer and his son Ashten.

Donald Meyer of Oak Grove, Mo., is the most recent tragedy.

He died in December after an 8-foot deep trench caved in on him. He was working to install a new sewer line for a home in Belton.

Federal law requires workers to shore up any hole that's more than five feet deep.

"Fire departments really don’t know, I think, what their authorities are when it comes to this," Grandview's fire chief Ron Graham said. "You can have fire trucks drive right by an open trench and see a guy down there. It’s not a fire, it’s a trench and they are not OSHA inspectors. They don’t really know. They know that looks dangerous, and if it collapses we are not probably going to save a person. Most of the time it’s a body recovery."

Graham says firefighters are not out to get plumbers and other utility crews in trouble with the law. They simply want to prevent workers from being trapped underground, where it's unlikely they can be saved.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration claims it doesn't take much extra time to install protection at a worksite that's below ground level.

"You have to shore your trenches," said Karena Lorek, OSHA director for the Kansas City area. "You don't get in a trench if it’s not protected. Unfortunately there are two workers killed a month in trench collapses. Last year there were 26 fatalities nationwide."

Meyer was raising an 8-year-old boy on his own when he died.

First responders believe only through continued educational efforts like this one, can tragic results be eliminated.

Related story:  Belton trench collapse victim identified as widower from Oak Grove survived by 8-year-old son