Trench excavation is one of the more dangerous activities in residential construction. Digging deep trenches is typically part of installing or replacing sewer and sanitary lines on single-family home construction sites. Safety standards require shoring and bracing trenches to prevent fatal cave-ins. Yet, in the past two years, fatalities in trench collapses have reached new highs, according to tracking from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One cause for the spike in fatalities may be due to a recent shortage in workers skilled in excavation work and thus more employers hiring untrained employees.
Safety on the Construction Site
Digging trenches for construction projects should start with a rigorous set of safety practices and adhering to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. In excavation work, OSHA sets standards for the shoring of each type and depth of excavation. OSHA is responsible for overseeing safe and healthy working conditions and provides both regulatory and training assistance for industries.
Each type of excavation and the site soil composition requires specific safety standards. OSHA classifies soil into four categories: stable rock, Type A, Type B, and Type C. Type A soil is considered the most stable soil and Type C the least stable. Each requires specific methods of shoring based on the soil type as well as the trench depth and excavation conditions, including rain and site runoff.
OSHA requires that any excavation that is more than five feet deep must be secured from collapse by sloping, benching, shielding, or shoring. Sloping is grading the trench walls at an angle rather than in a square. Depending on the soil type and trench depth, there is a formula for the required slope angle. Benching refers to digging a wide trench and benching the slope by adding steps in the side walls for stability. Shielding uses a box support system of walls that is inserted into the trench and braced with crossbars. Shielding is designed to protect workers from a collapse and is used in smaller spaces where a larger surface area that would be excavated for a slope is impractical. Shoring is a support system comprised of posts, struts, and sheeting.
In addition to complying with required regulations, on-site safety standards are critical in any aspect of the construction industry, particularly excavation where mistakes have a significant rate of serious injury or fatality. Regular workplace safety training and communication with employees about requirements are the foremost part of a workplace safety culture. Employees should have the ability to report unsafe practices without reprisal and have the expectation that safety is valued. Employers should adhere to regular equipment inspections and maintenance protocols.
Accidents in trench excavation happen when safety practices are not followed, and collapses can result in a worker being rapidly crushed or asphyxiated under the weight of multiple tons of soil. Construction workers should be familiar with their rights to a safe workplace, but, in the case of a serious accident, should consult with an experienced construction accident attorney.
Philadelphia Construction Accident Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Advocate for Those Injured on Construction Sites
If you have been injured in a construction accident, our Philadelphia construction accident lawyers at DiTomaso Law will represent your interests and obtain the compensation you deserve, so you can focus on your recovery. Located in Center City Philadelphia, we represent clients throughout southeastern Pennsylvania. Please contact us for a free consultation at 215-426-4493 or complete our online form.