Construction industry accidents occur at a far greater rate than incidents in any other industry.  In fact, this industry is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all fatal injuries every year, most of them due to falling or being struck by an object.  However, even in this already dangerous industry, there are some worksites, like trenching and excavation sites, which stand out as particularly risky.  Trenching and excavation sites are often rife with safety violations, placing workers in extreme danger of being crushed or asphyxiated in the event of a disaster.

WHAT IS TRENCHING?

OSHA defines a trench as any man-made depression or cut in the Earth’s surface that is created by removing material from the ground.  It is usually extremely narrow and doesn’t extend beyond 15 feet in width.  It is almost always deeper than it is wide.  Building a trench is typically done with a combination of heavy machinery and manpower, and workers often have to descend into the trench to finish the job.  These workers are more prone to suffer injuries from a trench collapse.

HOW IS TRENCHING DANGEROUS?

A large number of trenching related construction accidents happen every year due to poor safety enforcement at trenching sites.  The process of excavating tons of earth can destabilize the ground, so cave-ins are frequent.  Those who are caught in a trench during a cave-in rarely have enough time to react, and can easily be killed by the weight of the earth, or may be asphyxiated if they are buried alive.  Those who survive may suffer from permanent injuries to the spine or brain, possibly resulting in paralysis, chronic pain, or cognitive dysfunction.

Each trench must be well ventilated, as these narrow spaces can quickly become an asphyxiation risk if there are any chemical fumes.  Workers caught at the bottom of a trench during a heavy rain or sudden flood may drown if they are not helped in time.

Trenches also represent a falling hazard to other workers, and even a trench just several feet deep can cause a fatal fall.

WHAT SAFETY MEASURES MUST BE PRESENT AT TRENCHING SITES?

OSHA requires that every trench receive a daily inspection from a qualified professional, ensuring that there are no immediate threats to the worksite.  OSHA also recommends that excavated earth be taken away from the trench area, as this will reduce pressure on the trench walls.  A ladder or some other form of climbing device must also be present to help workers exit the worksite quickly.  Providing a slope inside the trench can also reduce the chances of being crushed if there is a cave in.

Retaining walls or supports can also keep the walls of the trench braced, greatly reducing the likelihood of a collapse.  Keeping vibrating machinery away from the trench will also prevent destabilization of the earthen walls.  Finally, fall protection should be present to keep workers from slipping and falling into the trench.

WHAT SHOULD A CONSTRUCTION WORKER DO IF THEY ARE HURT WHILE ON A TRENCHING OR EXCAVATION SITE?

Construction accidents, including excavations and trench collapses, can cause severe and permanent injuries.  These accidents often result in the need for extensive medical treatment and physical therapy, and may even keep the victim from being able to return to work.  Anyone hurt in a trenching incident should think about speaking with a personal injury lawyer to discover possible options for compensation.  This can help a victim deal with expensive medical bills and ongoing treatment that may be required.

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