Trenching, especially deep trenching in or near Boston, Mass., can cause injury and death to workers if the trench caves in. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 271 workers lost their lives in trench accidents between 2000 and 2006. Trenches tend to cave in if protective systems are not in place.
Protective Systems: When digging trenches deeper than five feet, workers must institute safety measures. This pertains not only to the Boston, Mass. area, but throughout the nation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration publishes documents that outline what type of systems must be used according to the depth of the trench. Safety systems include:
- Benching: Workers excavate the sides of the trench, forming horizontal steps or levels. The surfaces between the steps are usually near vertical or vertical. Workers cannot use this method in Type C soil.
- Sloping: If workers use sloping as a protective measure, they cut the trench wall at an angle. The top of the trench is wider than the bottom of the trench. Creating a sloped trench keeps soil from caving in onto the workers.
- Shoring: Workers install supports that keep the soil from caving in. Support may be aluminum hydraulic or other types, according to OSHA.
- Shielding: Trench boxes keep the trench from caving in on top of workers.
When a contractor designs the protective systems, it must take into consideration several things, including the type of soil, the depth of the trench, how much water is in the soil, and other factors.
Preventing Accidents: Part of preventing fatal accidents while working with trenches is planning the job before excavation starts. The contractor must:
- Select the proper protective system by evaluating the soil according to 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P Appendix A, then select the proper protective system using 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P Appendix F. Once the proper system has been chosen, the contractor must construct the system pursuant to 29 CFR 1926.652.
- Before excavation begins, the contractor must contact utility companies so the respective companies can locate any underground utilities, such as phone, electric and gas. If the trench is being dug near a street, the contractor must also plan for traffic control.
- An important part of pre-planning includes testing the area for toxins. Toxic gases, low oxygen content and contamination from leaking lines and underground storage tanks all present dangerous conditions to workers.
- Provide for safe ingress and egress to and from the trenches; and put in the proper safeguards if the trench fills or starts to fill with water.
- Site inspections at the start of every shift should be completed and documented, especially after a rain, other act of nature that may have damaged the trench, or other event that may have created an unstable environment.
Trenching Warnings: Because trenching is so dangerous, as of Oct. 3, 2011, OSHA released three new information products that employers must post. The Trenching and Excavation Fact Sheet gives workers an overview of the dangers of working in trenches. It also outlines the safety measures that employers must institute before and during excavation.
Working Safely in Trenches is a “quick card” that outlines safety measures and trenching dangers with graphics. And, the Do Not Enter an Unprotected Trench poster should be posted in the workplace. The poster informs workers that their employer must take certain steps to keep trench excavation safe.
Injuries Caused by Trench Collapse: Trenches deeper than wider, and may be up to 20 feet deep. Besides death, other injuries may occur, including brain damage because of oxygen depletion, respiratory problems because of lack of oxygen or because of breathing in hazardous fumes, broken bones, paralyses (temporary and permanent), back problems that could last for the rest of a worker’s life, and other injuries.
Some of these injuries could affect a worker’s ability to work and care for his or her family, and could also cause a young worker the ability to start a family.
If you have been injured in a trench accident, or you lost a loved one because of a trench accident, contact a Boston personal injury attorney experienced in trench accidents. An experienced trench accident attorney investigates these accidents to learn of the cause. Even though a money settlement cannot replace a lost one and cannot replace the physical abilities that enable you to work and care for your family or start a family, it will pay for medical bills; and depending on the circumstances, compensate you for your loss.