During summer, the increase in construction work calls for increased awareness of on-the-job construction accidents. Construction workers face the most dangerous work conditions in the U.S., with calamities ranging from scaffolding accidents and falls from heights to forklift accidents, crane accidents and building collapses.
Trench collapses are another deadly form of construction site accidents. In April, a construction worker was injured in a trench collapse in Worcester, Massachusetts. Thankfully, he was only buried waist-deep and suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Many construction workers trapped in trenches are not that lucky.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more than 540 trench collapse deaths between 1992 and 2001, with an average of 54 trench collapse deaths per year. In fact, trench collapses/cave-ins accounted for more than 75 percent of trenching and excavation deaths between 1992 and 2001. The majority of these fatalities were construction workers employed by small companies.
As with most construction accidents, trench collapses are preventable. They are often the result of overlooked safety issues, engineering problems or other forms of negligence.
When an employer fails to provide a safe workplace, it can be held accountable for the injuries that failure causes. Negligent construction companies/contractors can also be held responsible by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to OSHA, construction companies must protect all trenches five feet or deeper against collapse. Additionally, trenches must be inspected by an authorized trench safety inspector.
A Massachusetts contractor was cited in February for failure to provide adequate protection against a collapse in a seven-foot-deep trench, as well as failure to provide employees with reflective clothing. In the citation report, OSHA’s area director, Brenda Gordon, stated: “An unprotected trench can become a prison or a grave in seconds if its walls cave in on workers.” The company faced nearly $30,000 in fines.