Federal officials have cited a plumbing company and say the death of a 27-year-old worker who was buried alive during a trench cave-in in Buffalo Grove was preventable.
Nikodem Zaremba, 27, of Elmwood Park, died around 7:20 p.m. on December 12, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Zaremba became trapped in a hole in the front yard of a residence in the 1000 block of Aspen Drive in Buffalo Grove around 5:30 p.m. that day.
A company, Rooter Solutions, Inc., was contracted to perform sewer repair work at the residence.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said Zaremba was down about seven feet from the surface fixing a residential water line damaged during excavation.
The trench’s walls collapsed and crushed Zaremba, who was buried in the hole and not breathing.
A sewer repair permit had been issued to Rooter Solutions for the property on November 29, the village said.
The owner of the company and two employees, including Zaremba, were working at the site of the excavation, which was approximately 13 feet long by nine feet wide and eight feet deep.
The second employee, who was in the trench with Zaremba, escaped unharmed.
Inspectors with OSHA found Rooter Solutions Inc. failed to install cave-in protection that would have protected the workers in the trench and did not ensure the use of required head protection.
Firefighters arrived and confirmed Zaremba was trapped in the hole and the alarm was upgraded to bring an expanded technical rescue response to the scene.
A total of 17 fire departments and 62 rescue personnel responded to the incident.
Technical rescue specialists “worked feverishly” to uncover and remove the man from the collapse, village officials said at the time.
Zaremba was removed at 6:35 p.m. — over an hour after the initial 911 call — and transported by ambulance to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights where he later died.
State records show Zaremba was an apprentice plumber.
Rooter Solutions, Inc. was legally created in August 2022 and had no OSHA history prior to the incident.
OSHA completed its investigation earlier this month and cited Rooter Solutions Inc. for a “willful violation” and a “serious violation” with proposed penalties of $35,940.
“Trench collapses are one of the construction industry’s most deadly hazards. Soil can shift suddenly and bury a person under thousands of pounds of dirt and rocks,” OSHA Chicago North Area Director Sukhvir Kaur said.
Kaur said Zaremba’s death was one of 39 caused by fatal injuries in trench collapses in 2022.
Arlington Heights resident Klaudia Potapa said Zaremba was a “hardworking, loving, and kind soul.”
“He loved and cared deeply for everyone around him whether it was his family, friends, or co-workers. Family was the utmost importance to him, they were his primary motivation in all of his endeavors,” Potapa said.
“To Nikuś friends he was the fun-loving, adventurous goofball who always had your back. To his parents he was their first born son. To his brothers he was the oldest, a strong role model, and forever friend,” she added.
Zaremba’s fiance remembered him as her “everything, best friend, soulmate, and future husband.”