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Fallen Workers: Luis Javier Martinez, North Carolina

Luis Javier Martinez, 39, was working on a project installing a water line on the NC State University campus this past November when the trench in which he was working he was working caved in. He was buried in several feet of dirt and died.

Deaths from trench cave-ins are entirely preventable with the use of proper equipment, such as a trench box that supports the sides. Yet, every year, workers to continue to die needlessly from this hazard.

In Luis Martinez’s case, the tragedy is even more infuriating because his employer, J.F. Wilkerson Contracting Co. of Morrisville, N.C., had been cited previously for failure to provide its workers with adequate protections from trench cave-ins. Despite evidence that the company was not protecting its workers, NC OSHA failed to penalize the company with more than a slap on the wrist- and Luis paid the ultimate price as a result.

Here is a summary of the sad history of NC OSHA’s failure to prevent this tragedy:


  • August 22, 2007: As part of a planned inspection, NC OSHA finds that J.F. Wilkerson has violated trench safety standards and assesses a fine of $1,175. But the penalty is reduced to zero as part of an “informal settlement” with the company.
  • November 14, 2007: After a worker files a complaint of unsafe conditions on the company’s jobsite, NC OSHA investigates and finds five serious violations. The company is fined $7,920, but the penalty is reduced to a paltry $1,820.
  • February 23, 2011: Another worker files a complaint of unsafe conditions on a J.F. Wilkerson jobsite. NC OSHA inspects but does not cite the company for any violations.
  • November 19, 2012: Unsafe conditions persist at the worksite and Luis Martinez is killed. NC OSHA’s investigation is still in process.

Read other stories of fallen workers.  Learn more about Workers’ Memorial Week of Action.