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Tillman & Associates, Attorneys at Law

Trench collapse deaths rise despite ability to prevent the danger

Deaths in the trenches of a construction site are absolutely unnecessary and avoidable if proper safety precautions are followed. So why are they on the rise?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that there were more deaths from trench collapses in 2016 than there were in the previous two years combined. There's simply no reason that the trend is happening except that employees are uneducated about the dangers and companies aren't doing what they should to protect those employees.

If you work in some form of construction that puts you literally in the trenches -- whether it's roadwork laying pipes or plumbing work to replace old, collapsed lines, here are some facts that you should know:

1. There's no warning that a trench is about to collapse. It just happens. That makes it impossible to predict, watch for, or guard against simply by being observant. It also makes it impossible to try to escape before the actual walls fall in.

2. A single cubic yard of dirt can weigh 3,000 pounds or more, depending on its composition. That's a crushing weight that could cave in your rib cage or skull and kill you long before anyone has a chance to even try to dig you out.

3. Employers are supposed to follow OSHA standards..Someone on your construction team should be designated as the "competent person" who is responsible for seeing that those safety standards are being met. If your construction team doesn't have a clearly designated competent person, your company is violating OSHA rules.

4. The designated competent person is responsible for inspecting the trench every day, before work begins. He or she is also responsible for educating workers of the safety precautions that they need to take in plain language, tailored to their level of understanding. If any workers are not native English speakers, they need to have the instructions relayed by a qualified translator.

5. The employer is responsible for keeping unqualified workers out of the trench. That means not allowing brand-new employees who have no experience to start out in the trench before they even understand the basic safety requirements. Summer help, especially underage students, should never be put in dangerous situations like trenches.

If you've lost a loved one due to a trench collapse, contact an attorney promptly. Trench collapse deaths are preventable tragedies, not accidents of nature.

Source: Workplace Solutions From the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, "Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-ins," accessed June 20, 2017

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