June 14, 2018
Trenches are part of a great deal of construction work. Installing or repairing waterlines, sewers, and communication wiring involve digging trenches. For trenches that are at least five feet deep, engineering controls to shore up the trench are necessary for worker safety. Ladders for a safe exit must be within 25 feet of everyone working in the trench.
Trench cave-ins onto workers is the biggest danger. This can happen suddenly without warning, and when the soil appears to the untrained eye as compact and secure. The chance of a cave-in is based on several factors, including the type of soil, the water content of soil, the weight of nearby heavy machinery, and vibrations. While it may be tempting to dispense precautions, especially for a quick job, that could be a fatal decision.
If workers are dealing with a gas line, then an inhalation hazard also exists. In this case, air monitoring and ventilation may be required before work can safely proceed.
Competent Person Needed On-site
A significant amount of training is needed to determine the type and degree of engineering controls that will work for a trench job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a trained competent person to be on-site for any excavation activities where workers will need to work in a trench. The role of the competent person is to first evaluate the soil and determine what type of protective system will be used for the job. Next, define a schedule of steps for the system to be set up before workers enter the trench.
Care must be taken to address the surrounding area. For example, safe locations for soil piles must be designated as well as safe distances for heavy equipment. Another necessary precaution is to call 811 to check if there are any utilities in the area that need to be marked and avoided. Finally, the competent person must also be aware of steps to be taken in an emergency.
Ongoing monitoring is incredibly important. The competent person must inspect the trench and nearby areas as well as any protective systems used to shore up the trench before anyone can begin work inside it. Continued inspection must happen every day before the start of work and after every rainstorm. Evidence of a potential collapse, such as an accumulation of water in the trench or protective system problems, must be monitored and addressed.
If a Cave-In Occurs
If a cave-in occurs, the risk of crushing injuries, such as broken bones, is exceeded by the risk of suffocation. The speed of a typical cave-in, as well as the heavy weight of soil, are huge impediments to successfully rescuing a worker trapped in a trench. Workers should know about the necessary precautions and be empowered to insist that they are in place before entering any trench.
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If you or someone you know has been injured in a construction accident, then you need an experienced Philadelphia construction accident lawyer at DiTomaso Law to represent you. We offer free initial consultations to discuss your case and help evaluate your options. Contact us by calling 215-426-4493 or complete our online form. We are in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and we serve clients from the surrounding area.
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