According to a report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 350 workers were killed by collapsing trenches nationwide between 2000 and 2009. This amounted to a rate of 35 fatalities a year. NIOSH says that 64 percent of all trench deaths that happened between 1997 and 2001 occurred less than 10 feet below ground level. The leading cause of such deaths is a lack of proper trench safety equipment for the soil type, depth and width of the excavation.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates any trench at or below five feet must be protected in one of four approved manners to prevent workplace injury or death. These include reinforcing the trench using a box, sloping the sides to ameliorate the risk of a cave-in, “benching” or carving the trench in steps to provide greater stability or using hydraulic or planking supports to shore up the sides.
The NIOSH report notes that earth can weigh over 3,000 pounds per cubic yard, which enough to crush a person easily. Many trench cave-ins occur with no warning, leaving workers unable to escape the collapse. Among other risk factors, the report points to unstable soil conditions and weather occurrences, such as rainstorms, as contributing factors to accidents. In addition, vibrations from other machinery or vehicles nearby may destabilize trenches, especially when other risk factors for collapse are already present.
In a workplace accident case, an attorney might begin by reviewing both standing safety protocols, onsite conditions for the day of the accident and other factors that may have led to the accident to determine if a workers’ compensation insurance plan applies to the situation. Once this is done, the attorney may issue a worker’s compensation claim, which might include lost wages, medical expenses and rehabilitation.