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Trench collapses often fatal to workers

There is no doubt that construction workers in New York face many on-the-job dangers every day. From scaffolding accidents to power tool injuries, there is always some hazard lurking in and around a job site.

One of the most commonly fatal work site accidents is a trench collapse. Few workers who get caught in trench collapses survive the experience. The reason for the high mortality rate is that soil is very heavy. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 lbs. To put that into perspective, it's as much as a small car.

The bad news is that in a recent year — 2016 — there were 23 worker deaths and 12 injuries nationwide from trench collapses. The good news is that most, if not all, of these disasters are completely preventable.

Don't risk it

Any worker who enters an improperly shored-up trench is risking their lives, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns. Unlike some construction accidents where there are advance warning signs of pending equipment failures or disasters, trenches collapse onto workers without any warnings.

What causes cave-ins?

Trenches cave in for a number of reasons. Some of the most common include:

  • environmental factors
  • water content
  • type of soil
  • excavations that have previously been back-filled
  • vibrations from cars and/or nearby heavy equipment
  • weight of tools or machinery in close proximity to the trench

In reality, anything that affects the stability of the soil is a potential cause of a deadly cave-in.

Follow all safety protocols

Before the first shovelful of soil is removed from a trench, certain precautions must have already been taken. Company officials must first dial 811 to learn where various underground utility lines are laid. Each job site also needs to have a designated competent person be present at all times to inspect and enforce workplace safety measures. This individual must also periodically evaluate the stability of the soil and determine whether it is stable enough for workers to dig a trench.

Additionally, the designated competent individual must specify which type of protective system is needed. When planning the job site, safe spots to route heavy equipment and locate spoil piles must be far enough away from any trenches to prevent a collapse.

When workers are in the trench

Constant site assessment is a priority of the competent person on each job site. Changing weather conditions during a shift can destabilize the soil in the trench and compromise workers' safety.

In the event of a collapse, ladders and other escape equipment must be located within 25 feet of each trench on the job site at all times.

The shoring material must also be strong enough to prevent the walls from caving in on those working in the trench.

Injured workers have rights

All injured construction workers have certain rights, that, when properly exercised, can open the door to financial compensation from filed claims.

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