Being underneath tons of earth and steel is dangerous. Yet every day, workers who install water pipes, excavate or dig trenches put their lives on the line, not always mindful that a cave-in could occur. Pennsylvania companies doing this type of work should be aware of the common causes of trench cave-ins and follow guidelines set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to prevent them, as well as avoid injuries and workplace deaths.
According to data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics', 350 fatalities occurred between 2000 and 2009 due to trench or excavation collapses. While that may not seem common, even one death is too many, especially when the cause is preventable.
? What makes a cave-in dangerous is that it can be very unpredictable. Walls can collapse without any warning or indication and workers may not have enough time to seek safety.
However, there are many factors that can contribute to a cave in. The type of soil and its water content can be a major factor. Heavy equipment, machine vibrations, proximity to previously excavated and filled trenches and environmental conditions are contributing factors as well.
According to OSHA, protective systems must be in place when excavations reach five or more feet deep. The agency recommends that one of these systems be used -- ground sloping or benching, hydraulic jacks and planks to shore the trench or a trench box. Workers should also refrain from entering an unprotected trench.
If a Pennsylvania worker dies in a trench collapse, then the victim's family may have options. A work-related death could result in a workers' compensation claim. However, depending upon the circumstances, a family may find it appropriate to file a wrongful death lawsuit, especially if they suspect that negligence played a part in the trench cave-in.
Source: Cdc.gov, "Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-Ins," accessed Oct. 21, 2014