What Is a Trench Collapse?

What Is a Trench Collapse? Employees who work with and/or in trenches face extreme danger every day, and even more so when proper safety precautions are not taken or provided. Accidents resulting in traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries can result from trench collapses, a dangerous occurrence at these worksites, and that’s when you need the expert advice of the injury attorneys at Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, located in Newark, Wilmington, and Seaford.

There are a myriad of jobs and careers. Some hold very little risk, where you are unlikely to find yourself injured. Others, such as manual labor jobs, can pose a serious threat to workers if the proper precautions are not taken, the proper tools are not provided, or the equipment fails. A small mistake or oversight may lead to severe injuries or even fatalities for workers.

Why are trenches dangerous?

Excavating and trenching are some of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and it is important to take all safety regulations and precautions into consideration. According to OSHA, excavation is:

any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground. In general, the depth of a trench is greater than its width, but the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet.

Few contractors take the risk of trench collapses seriously, as they often do not take into account the weight of the soil. A seemingly small amount of soil can weigh a great deal, with a single cubic yard weighing up to 4000 pounds – that is, about the same size as a white rhino.

If there is anyone working near or inside the trench when it caves in, unprotected workers can be buried under all that weight, and too often it proves to be fatal. It is as if an entire car has fallen on top of them, or even a heavier weight. However, when using the proper safety precautions, accidents like this can be avoided.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),

Trench collapses are rarely survivable but completely preventable. Injuries and deaths associated with trenches continue to happen. From 2003 to 2017 there were a total of 373 trenching fatalities, with more than 80% of them in the construction industry. Engineering controls, protective equipment, and safe work practices can reduce hazards to workers and prevent trench cave-ins.

How to avoid trench collapses

People who work in excavating and trenching can follow certain procedures and precautions in order to be as safe as possible in the dangerous environment. Some of these precautions include:

  • Don’t enter trenches that have not been reinforced or inspected at the start of the day or after a rainstorm.
  • Don’t work under suspended loads.
  • Never start digging till all underground utilities in the area have been accounted for.
  • Keep materials away from the edge of the trench – at least two feet from the edge.
  • Make sure air tests are carried out if the trench is more than 4 feet deep. Oxygen deprivation is the second leading cause of fatalities in unregulated trenches.
  • Evacuate the trench immediately if you smell a strange odor or see rainwater accumulating at the bottom. Either of these could compromise trench structure or weaken it, thus making a cave-in imminent.
  • Look for standing water or atmospheric hazards.
  • Never enter a trench unless it has been properly inspected.

To prevent cave-ins, it is not only the responsibility of the worker to follow safety protocols, but also the responsibility of the employer to provide the proper resources in order for workers to do their jobs safely.  Employers need to ensure that there is a safe way to enter and exit the trench, and that the correct and safe equipment is available and functioning properly.

Will I be compensated if I’m injured in a Delaware trench collapse?

If you are hired as an employee to excavate and trench, then your employer should offer you workers’ compensation benefits. In the event you are injured on the job, then any medical bills and a portion of your lost income should be compensated by your employer. It’s important that you report your injury as soon as possible, and see your doctor or an independent doctor outside the one that your employer might choose for you. If your employer insists that you see a doctor of their choosing, or try to get you to sign something concerning your accident, you should contact your attorney first.

If your accident happened due to faulty equipment or machinery, you may also find that you can file a separate lawsuit (such as a product liability lawsuit). You may also be eligible for a personal injury claim in the event your employer’s or an employee’s negligence caused your injuries, or if you are not covered by Delaware workers’ compensation.

Working in and around excavation sites and trenches is dangerous work that could end up with you injured or dead. That is why there has to be extensive safety measures taken by both the employer and the employee. The employer needs to ensure that equipment is running safely, and that the proper equipment is available to use. Workers should always wear protective gear, stay away from the edges of a trench, and keep an eye out for signs of danger or collapse.

If you have been injured due to a trench collapse, ensure you contact an experienced lawyer so that you can be compensated for not only your pain and suffering, but your hospital bills and any missed income. To schedule a consultation, call Silverman, McDonald & Friedman at 302-888-2900 or fill out our contact form.  Our legal services extend throughout Delaware from our offices in Newark, Wilmington, and Seaford.