Trench accidents can happen suddenly and can be devastating. For example, a worker looked up at his site supervisor last month and asked whether it was safe to leave the trench box, which contains steel barriers that hold up the trench’s walls and protect workers. The supervisor told the worker to hurry. Second later, the walls of the trench collapsed onto the worker, shattering his pelvis, breaking two ribs, dislocating his shoulder and a hip.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated and fined the company $29,4000. However, OSHA has found it is common for many excavation companies to consistently neglect the dangers they know can be posed by trenches. In many cases, companies fail to correct their safety measures even after OSHA fines them. According to OSHA, approximately 70 percent of workplace inspections to sewer or water line construction sites have been given at least one violation regarding trenches in the last eight years.
How to Keep Trench Workers Safe
While trenching and excavation can present potential hazards, OSHA believes that no job should be dangerous, so long as employers take the proper safety precautions. A trench is a narrow underground excavation more deep than it is wide, and typically no wider than 15 feet. That said, the most dangerous cause of trench accidents are cave-ins, though falling into the trench is also a known hazard. To protect workers, there are several types of protective systems, including the following:
- Sloping involves cutting back the trench wall at an angle pointing away from the excavation
- Shoring involves the installation of supports, usually aluminum, to prevent soil movements that cause cave-ins
- Shielding uses trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent cave-ins
The best protection a worker can have when dealing with trenches is a good protective system in place at the excavation site. This means factors such as soil classification, water content of the soil, depth of cut, materials used in the trench and future weather conditions must all be taken into account before a protective system is implemented.
OSHA also requires that trenches must be inspected by a competent person every day as outdoor conditions are always subject to change. OSHA defines a competent person as someone who is capable of identifying existing or future hazards that pose a danger to the workers. Workers must also be properly trained on where underground utilities are on the site, how to test for low oxygen, how to inspect trench conditions after a storm and how to manage equipment near the trench.
Larrimer & Larrimer, LLC is a workers’ compensation law firm that fights for workers who have sustained on-the-job injuries in the Zanesville, Shadyside, Columbus and Newark areas of Ohio.