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Workplace accidents: Don't take risks in an unprotected trench

One of the most dangerous areas on any construction site is an excavation or trench. Pennsylvania construction workers have the right to refuse to enter an unprotected trench. Trench collapses are workplace accidents in which victims have little chance of surviving. When a trench wall collapses every cubic yard of soil that falls on a worker weighs about the same as a small car -- approximately 3,000 pounds.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 23 trench-collapse fatalities were recorded in 2016 despite the fact that these accidents are preventable. Entering an unprotected trench, even for a brief moment, is just not worth the risk because collapses happen without any warning. Instability of trench walls can be caused by specific types of soil, environmental conditions, water content and previous backfilling activities.

Safety authorities require a certified expert to assess every aspect of a trench from the moment it is excavated and while in use in order to ensure stability is not compromised. Along with the assessment of the type of protective systems to be used, the expert must manage the use of tools and heavy equipment, motor vehicle movement and vibrations nearby and the prevention of spoils left on the edges of the trench. The individual must also ensure that ladders are placed as prescribed for quick means of exit from the excavation.

Victims of trench collapses or other workplace accidents in Pennsylvania are entitled to claim workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages. Surviving family members of workers who lost their lives can pursue financial relief to help them with the costs related to end-of-life expenses. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can assist with the death benefits claims process that may also provide a wage replacement package.

Source: safetyandhealthmagazine.com, "Preventing trench collapses", April 22, 2018

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