Construction workers in California and elsewhere risk their lives whenever they enter trenches. The number of workers’ compensation benefits claims that follow cave-ins is concerning, and authorities hope that the upcoming Trench Safety Stand-Down from June 17 to 21 would prevent future wall collapses. Although trenches and excavations are both human-made cuts or depressions on the surface of the earth, trenches are those of which the depth is greater than the width, with widths not exceeding 15 feet.
Workers are reminded that they have the right to refuse to enter unprotected trenches. Any such an excavation that is deeper than five feet and not made entirely of solid rock must be protected by sloping the wall to incline away from the opening or by benching, which involves the walls shaped in steps. Shoring and shielding are options that make use of supports to strengthen the walls or trench boxes that protect workers by enclosing them and preventing cave-ins. The suitable method of protection depends on various factors, such as water content, soil type, and more, and a designated competent person must consider them to determine the appropriate support system to be used.
The competent person must carry out daily inspections to consider changing conditions that include weather conditions and moving soil. That person must be one who can identify existing hazards, predict potential dangers, and has the authority to take corrective action. Along with the integrity of the trench walls, the competent person must monitor the excavation for unsanitary conditions, leaks that can cause water accumulation, and hazardous atmospheric conditions.
Workers can also insist on safe methods of access and egress with ladders, ramps or steps in any trenches with depths exceeding four feet. Workers in California who are fortunate enough to survive such collapses can pursue financial assistance to cover medical expenses and lost wages. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can assist with the administrative and legal proceedings of the claims process, and the lawyer can do the same for surviving family members of workers who lost their lives in trench collapses.