Safety authorities remain concerned about the number of trench collapses or cave-ins that continue to cause injuries and fatalities on construction sites nationwide, including in California. A significant number of workers’ compensation claims follow trench collapses every year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently underscored the importance of trench protection by distributing free stickers to remind employers and employees of the dangers posed by unprotected excavations.
The only way to prevent workers from being buried alive is to ensure that every trench has the appropriate protection. This is typically based on the analysis of the soil type, the location and other matters by a competent person. For example, certain soil types can make a relatively shallow trench — three or four feet deep — as dangerous as one that is 10 feet deep. Furthermore, workers must have safe access and egress from trenches, and the edges of excavations must be kept clear.
Sloping is one way to prevent cave-ins, and it involves the sloping of the trench wall outward from the base at a slant to the top edge — making the opening much wider than the bottom of the excavation. Trenches can also be shored, which is a process of bracing the side walls with wood or aluminum supports. The third type of protection is done with a trench box or shield, which comprises custom structures made of steel or aluminum to place inside the trench for complete protection from wall cave-ins.
Construction workers in California may not realize that they have the right to refuse to enter an unprotected trench. Anyone who was fortunate enough to survive a trench collapse can file a workers’ compensation benefits claim to cover medical expenses and lost wages. Families who have lost loved ones in trench cave-ins can also pursue financial assistance. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can assist surviving family members with the complicated process of claiming survivor’s benefits that will cover the costs of end-of-life arrangements and a financial package to make up for lost wages.