10 years after girl's death, new law protects public from trenches

Theresa Knapp Enos

Almost 10 years after a trench collapsed on Bridgewater 4-year-old Jackie Moore, a new trench law to protect the public — the so-called “Jackie’s Law” — went into effect Sunday.

Jackie died in August 1999 after a contractor dug a nine-foot trench in the Moore’s backyard and left it unprotected. Within minutes of the contractor leaving, Jackie, her brother and another neighborhood child were playing in the hole when it collapsed.

The other two children escaped, but Jackie did not.

“She was a beautiful, spunky little girl who did all the typical little girl things like soccer and dance school and she went to preschool,” says her mother, Maureen Moore of Bridgewater, who has been working since the accident to pass a law that would protect the public.

“There were OSHA (Occupational Safety and the Department of Public Safety) laws for workers and grown adults who are experienced in the risks involved in excavating, but yet there were no laws to protect the general public — kids in particular — who aren’t educated or know the dangers of the work site. That they were able to open the earth and leave a deadly trench seemed like a terrible flaw in the system,” said Moore.

The law was drafted by the Department of Public Safety and passed on its first try in 2002. It then took six years to be sure the law did not conflict with OSHA regulations and to give municipalities time to train their local licensing authorities.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety, “Jackie’s Law” is designed to prevent the general public from falling into an unattended trench and suffering an injury or fatality.

The regulation — which does not modify or supersede existing OSHA Excavation Standards — defines a trench as any excavation deeper than three feet, with less than 15 feet between soil walls as measured from the bottom.

It mandates that all such trenches must be attended, covered, barricaded, or backfilled. Covers must be road plates at least three-quarters of an inch thick or equivalent, barricades must be fences at least six feet high, with no openings greater than four inches between vertical supports and all horizontal supports required to be located on the trench-side of the fencing.

All excavators must get a permit for each trench site from the local licensing authority for excavation work on a public way or private property within that municipality.

“Jackie was the light of our life and, of course, we miss her terribly but we do a lot to honor her,” says Moore.

The Jackie Moore Fund holds various fundraisers to raise scholarship and grant money and bring awareness to safety issues. Its current fundraiser is a motorcycle raffle at the Charlie Horse in West Bridgewater.

The fund is now building a Snack Shack for the Bridgewater Girls Softball League, and has helped the Bridgewater Fire Department buy temporary trench walls to be used during trench rescues. It has also provided training to firefighters in trench rescue, high angle rescue, confined space rescue, structural collapse rescue, and underwater search and rescue. For more information on the foundation or fundraiser, visit www.jackiemoorefund.org or call 508-697-3940.

The Enterprise