If you are a construction worker in California, the list of safety hazards you may encounter is endless. One of the most dangerous jobs on construction sites is trench work and excavation. If you become familiar with the safety standards mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, identifying risks and taking precautions will be easier. Never lose sight of the fact that the weight of a cubic yard of dry soil can be between 2,000 and 2,700 pounds, and a cave-in can happen in the blink of an eye.
Remember, your employer must provide a safe work environment, and he or she may not expect you to work in an unsafe trench. The most significant hazard is the collapse of the trench walls. Your employer must nominate a competent person who must identify and address safety hazards throughout the duration of the project.
Cal/OSHA requires all trenches of which the depth exceeds five feet to have protective systems, except excavations in stable rock. The designated competent person must determine which protection system to use. The options include sloping, shoring, benching and shielding. Of these options, shielding protects workers from cave-ins and dropped objects because it uses a trench box that encloses the workers.
The means of egress is another crucial factor in trench safety that must allow workers to escape quickly in emergencies. Ladders, steps or ramps are options for the competent person to consider when determining the safe means of egress.
Contributors to cave-ins
Remember that any disturbance of the earth causes instability in the soil, especially when you consider the movement of workers and heavy equipment in the immediate area of the trench. The following are contributing factors to trench collapses that the competent person must inspect every day:
- The type of earth, dirt or soil
- Previous excavations or disturbances of the soil
- The level of moisture content in the soil
- The planned depth of the trench
- The expected time that trench activities will occur
- Weather conditions
- Any vibration from seismic activity, nearby trains or construction equipment
- Other structures nearby
- Expected movement or weight next to the trench
One inspection of the trench at the start of each shift is not enough. Adverse weather and any of these factors could compromise the stability of the trench during a shift.
How will you cope with the consequences of a trench collapse?
Even if you were fortunate enough to survive a trench collapse, you are likely facing mountains of medical bills and lost wages, and you are probably wondering where to turn for support during this period of temporary disability. You might find comfort in knowing that the California workers’ compensation program will have your back. However, the benefits claims process could be complicated, and utilizing the skills of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney might be the best way to ensure you receive the maximum amount of compensation under applicable laws.