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Brooks Schuelke
Brooks Schuelke
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Trenching Tragedies Continue

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Back in 2000, a construction site in Richmond, Texas made evening news casts across Texas after a construction trench collapsed and buried three men. Sadly, only one worker survived. The ground and trench walls had to be secured before rescuers could recover the remaining bodies.

Unfortunately this tragedy has repeated every year, even as recently as a couple weeks ago in Arkansas. A trench collapsed twice, leaving one construction worker dead and another trapped. Even though trench collapses are not the leading cause of death in the construction, collapses are more likely result in death or serious injury within minutes. This danger is a serious subject that has caught the attention of others here at InjuryBoard. So let’s start the discussion.

According to the Center for Construction Research & Training (“CPWR”), injury is most imminent from trench cave-ins. Other risks include falls, electrocution, being struck by falling objects, and bad air. A secondary hazard can develop when workers try to rescue other workers in trenches, such as the Arkansas case mentioned above. NIOSH notes that barriers to safety can exist by a lack of training, insufficient enforcement of standards, and costs of implementing safety measures.

Although construction trench safety is ultimately the job of the employer contractor, workers should make efforts to further prevent incidents. Before working in a trench, make sure all equipment is in good condition. If the trench is at least 4 feet deep, have a nearby way to get out (such as a ladder within 25 feet of you). The contractor should have all utilities marked before digging and shut off all electricity, gas, and water pipes in the trench.

Once a trench is made, OSHA requires protective systems to be implemented as control methods. Sloping is one such system. It protects workers by cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation. The second type of system is shoring. This protects workers by installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement. Finally, shielding can be used. Shielding protects workers by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins.

For more information on construction trench safety, please visit CPWR or conduct your own internet research. A quick search on Google might just save your life next time.