Trench safety: What construction workers need to know

A trench collapse can end a construction worker's life very quickly. Cave-ins can happen without any warning -- and the dirt is often so heavy and deep that successful rescues are rare.

That's why it's so important for construction workers to know what safety measures are supposed to be taken on the job. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does require employers to take adequate safety measures to protect their workers, trench safety is everybody's concern.

Here are some of the basics to remember:

  • Any trench five feet deep or deeper poses a considerable hazard. A protective system is always required.
  • Before any worker enters a trench for the shift, someone with the competency to do so needs to inspect the conditions for any kind of hazardous or predictable dangers.
  • It's important to try to identify external sources that could cause a trench to collapse, including heavy machinery in operation too close to the trench itself or dirt from the trench piled too close nearby.
  • Rain and water seepage from the ground create additional hazards in trenches. Extreme caution needs to be taken when rain or water is present because that can easily cause the soil to get weighted down and shift.
  • Every worker who goes into the trench needs to be wearing the appropriate personal safety devices, including high-visibility clothing or vests.
  • Workers need to remember that they have a right to refuse to perform work activity that poses an unreasonable danger.

Even when a trench is less than five feet deep, it's wise to be cautious. While many employers hesitate to use trench boxes, benches or shields because it can slow down progress, insist on it when you must. Don't allow a reckless employer to put your life at risk.

If you were injured in a construction accident or your loved one was killed due to unsafe conditions, you may have a legal right to recovery. Talk to an attorney to learn more about your legal options.

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