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Trench safety failures can cause worker injuries and death

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2022 | Workers' Compensation

In Pennsylvania, any type contracting and construction work will pose a risk to workers. Since these jobs are among the most common for workplace injuries and death, it is important to understand the fundamental safety requirements and what workers’ compensation benefits are available if there is an accident with injuries. Trenches are notably dangerous and there are rules that must be in place to ensure that the project is conducted in a safe and efficient manner. People who are working on trenches, doing excavation or are employed in any area of construction should understand if there was vigilance and what options are available after an accident.

Worker death sparks investigation and fines after trench collapse

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for ensuring that employers adhere to the rules regarding worker safety. Failures lead to sanctions. A case in which a worker in Pennsylvania died after an excavation wall collapsed sparked fines of more than $190,000. The accident happened in the summer of 2021. Workers were constructing a retaining wall for an Amazon distribution center. A 20-foot wall fell on the worker leading to a fatality. There was a steel plate designed to protect workers who were underneath the wall, but it was not deemed sufficient for that job.

OSHA found three serious violations by the contractor and one by the building company that hired the contractor. These were known as willful violations since they posed great risk to workers and did not follow the rules for safety. Workers did not have the proper protection; the system itself was not based on manufacturer recommendations; the competent person failed to follow the safety rules or pull workers off the site due to the dangers; and employees were not trained to spot and avoid dangers.

Understanding OSHA’s safety rules for trenching and excavation

OSHA has certain requirements in place for trenches and excavation. Workers who are performing the tasks are frequently kept in the dark as to the safety rules. When there is an accident, it is essential to know if there were violations, why they happened and who is responsible as this might be crucial when seeking maximum benefits for workers’ compensation. The size of the trench will dictate what type of protection system is applicable. Smaller trenches that are less than five feet might not need to have a protective system. Those 20 feet or more will absolutely need the protection system and that it be properly designed.

The previously mentioned “competent person” is essential to this process. A competent person must assess the trenches every day and adapt the safety and work based on current circumstances. This person should have the experience and education to perform tasks like assessing soil, looking for hazards and acting accordingly to make the area safe.

Workers must be fully aware of their rights when there is a possibility of danger. The conditions under which they are working cannot place them in jeopardy. They must be fully informed and trained regarding the potential hazards they are facing with this type of project. They are also allowed to see records of work injuries and complain to OSHA if they think their employer is not living up to the standards for safety.

The circumstances must be assessed after a construction work accident

To save money and maximize profit, it is not uncommon for employers – especially in the construction industry – to try and skirt the basic rules and leave workers in danger. This can be in trenching and excavation or any other kind of contracting work. The fines are designed to ensure employers understand the consequences for their actions, but the OSHA oversight does not always compel them to follow the law. When workers are injured, the accident itself could play a key role in the workers’ compensation benefits, the medical care and how long they will be covered for. For these concerns and anything else related to a work accident and injuries, it is wise to have help in making a claim.