Workers that excavate and enter trenches risk death or serious injury every day. It may not seem like a lot but one cubic yard of dirt can easily weigh more than 3,000 pounds. This can easily crush or suffocate a buried worker. From 2000 to 2009, 350 workers died in trench cave-ins. These are preventable deaths. Humans have known how to safely excavate dirt for hundreds of years. It requires careful study of the soil and proper use of stabilizing tools.
Trenches are often dug to excavate something, like pipes, sewer lines, power-lines and communication lines. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that protective systems be used to stabilize trenches that are five feet or greater deep. There are several protective systems that employers can use, including:
- Trench shields, like with a box.
- Shoring the trench with support with hydraulic jacks or planks.
- Grading and sloping the ground to improve trench stability.
- Benching the ground.
Your employer should always a protective system. Workers are heavily encouraged to refuse to enter a trench without one or more of these systems stabilizing the trench. Soil technicians can analyze the structural integrity of the soil and recommend proper protective systems to prevent trench collapses.
Employers are also encouraged to develop trench-specific safety plans. If a collapse occurs you may have only minutes to extricate the worker before he is crushed or suffocated. This plan should describe the steps to be taken and emergencies numbers to call. Employers are also encouraged to share trench safety in any language necessary for the workers to understand. Many workers who are killed in these accidents do not speak English, therefore, communication is occasionally an issue.
If you were injured in a trench cave-in then you may want to consult with an attorney. Trench cave-ins are preventable tragedies and so you may have a valid claim against your employer. Your safety and the safety of your co-workers should be the overriding concern of your employer – not trying to cut corners or make deadlines. You deserve to go to work and earn an honest living without worrying about your life.