Construction trenches are a vital part of maintaining our infrastructure and are used to access or construct gas lines, water mains, telephone lines, and underground pipes. Trenches are dug by excavation workers. They can be as wide as 15 feet at the bottom of the excavation and can be more than 20 feet deep.
When trench worksites are set up correctly and fully inspected, they generally allow for safe work conditions. Some construction companies, however, fail to take critical safety measures in order to cut costs and time. This puts workers at risk of being seriously injured or even killed.
Generally, how safe are trench workers?
According to Occupational Health & Safety, there were just as many construction fatalities in trenches during 2016 as there were during 2014 and 2015 combined. The booming economy, increasing infrastructure, and lack of trench safety awareness are cited as leading factors.
From 2011-2016, approximately 38 percent of construction fatalities occurred in industrial locations, another 30 percent in residential locations, and 20 percent on streets and highway sites. Many of these deaths occurred due to trench collapses or other accidents occurring in trenches.
What are the safety requirements for trenches?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), protective systems are required for construction trenches that are five feet deep or more. For trenches 20 feet or more, protective systems must be:
- Designed by a professional engineer, or
- Be based on tabulated data prepared by and/or approved by a registered professional engineer
Protective systems for trenches include:
- Benching: Protects workers from cave-ins by forming horizontal levels or steps along the sides of a trench.
- Sloping: Trench walls are cut at an incline angle to prevent walls from collapsing.
- Shoring: Involves aluminum hydraulic support to stop soil from moving.
- Shielding: Uses box-like structures to prevent cave-ins.
Wall collapses aren't the only risk to trench workers. When trench sites are set up along roadways or parking lots, workers could be at risk of being hit by a car. Roadside trench workers must be provided with high-visibility vests and worksites must be protected with barriers.
Who is responsible for ensuring that trench sites are safe?
Trenches must be evaluated by a competent person on a daily basis, or each time a new worker enters or conditions of the job site change. Additionally, a competent person must evaluate:
- The soil type of a trench site
- The weather conditions
- Nearby above-ground utility lines
- Nearby structures such as proximity of building, railroads, and other underground lines and pipes
- Surface and groundwater
- The construction equipment, materials, and tools used at a trench site
According to OSHA, a competent person is someone "who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”
A competent person must evaluate the site where a trench will be excavated before the digging begins. This allows the competent person to devise a preplan to ensure that the worksite is safe and compliant with OSHA standards.
What are my legal options if I'm injured on a trench site?
Those who survive trench accidents often sustain serious, and potentially permanent, injuries. Medical costs from X-rays, surgery, pain medication, and physical therapy can be expensive. In some cases, injured workers may be subject to a lifetime of medical treatment. What's worse, workers often can't afford to make ends meet while they're not collecting a paycheck.
Workers' compensation benefits cover these costs. Obtaining benefits, however, isn't easy. Any paperwork errors or missteps in the claims process can lead to delayed benefits or having your claim denied entirely. That's why you need an experienced legal advocate on your side who knows how the system works. The attorneys at Shebell & Shebell, LLC can ensure that your claim is properly filed and your paperwork is accurately filled out. Our legal team can also negotiate with the insurance companies for a fair settlement.
Our law offices are located in Shrewsbury and Freehold, New Jersey. To get started, contact us online and schedule your free consultation.