The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reminds all the role players in the construction industry of the importance of trench and excavation safety by organizing a stand down during June each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, despite these efforts, a significant number of fatalities and construction site injuries are caused by cave-ins in Minnesota and across the country each year. The week of June 17 to 21 will be dedicated to trench safety this year.
Although collapsed trench walls pose dangerous hazards, other threats include drownings in accumulated water at the bottom of a trench, electricity, gas or other utility strikes, poisonous air quality, and falls into unbarricaded trenches. Compliance with OSHA’s safety standards can prevent such accidents. A competent person must analyze the soil to determine whether shoring, sloping, benching or the use of a trench box would be a suitable method to secure the trench walls.
No workers or equipment must be allowed above the trench, and signage, fencing or barricades around the excavation will prevent workers from falling into the trench. Pumps can avoid the accumulation of water, and air quality testing can prevent workers’ exposure to hazardous atmospheres. Having utilities located and marked before excavation starts can prevent accidental strikes. Workers must have access to ladders or other routes of easy exit in emergencies.
Complacency and shortcuts have led to many trench collapses with devastating consequences. Families who have lost loved ones who suffered fatal construction site injuries can get financial assistance through the Minnesota workers’ compensation insurance system. An experienced attorney can help with the claims process to obtain benefits to cover end-of-life expenses and lost wages. Survivors of such accidents can claim benefits to cover their medical costs along with a portion of lost wages.