Trench collapses are perhaps some of the most common and feared injury causing hazards of construction work. While some people may believe that only deep trenches have the potential to cause severe injury, severe injury and death may occur in shallow trenches. In Phoenix, Arizona, a 42-year-old construction worker died in a trench collapse while working in a trench that was a mere 6 feet deep. In New York, a worker was killed when an 8 foot trench collapsed. Ultimately, it was found that the construction company had failed to provide protection on the sides of the excavation.
There are great risks with working in trenches. Among the hazards include a high risk of cave in accidents, falls, wall collapses, risks of oxygen depletion, toxic fumes, and water accumulation. Furthermore, a trench collapse does not have to be triggered by the work being done at the time of the collapse. Vibrations from nearby activity can cause the walls of the trench to shake loose. The amount of water in the soil and the consistency of the soil are important factors which contribute to the likelihood of a dangerous trench collapse. OSHA requires protection measures to be in place for workers in trenches. Trench wall protective systems or boxes protect workers while working in excavations or trenches. If these protective measures are not in place, there is an increased risk of side wall collapses or cave-ins. These collapses may cause the worker to be crushed, asphyxiated, suffocated, poisoned, or injured from falling debris.
These accidents are largely preventable. If you or a loved one is injured from a trench collapse, ask to see if these measures were followed. If not, the construction supervisors may be liable for the resulting injuries. First, read, understand, and apply all the applicable safety rules. A construction company failing to comply with these laws is a strong indicator of liability. Second, soil conditions should be evaluated and protective systems should be put in place. Retaining devices should be in place to prevent equipment from failing back into the excavation. It may also be helpful to have an individual trained in trench safety to inspect the site for any failures to comply with the regulations or to see whether any seemingly unnoticeable dangers are present. Furthermore, it is important to test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases; especially when gasoline engine-driven equipment is running. With the applicable protective measures, the risks associated with working in trenches can be dramatically decreased. If the protective measures are not in place, serious injury or death of the trench worker and liability of the worksite supervisors may occur.