Wrongful death at excavation sites

Pennsylvania workers who are involved in trenching and excavation projects are at a serious risk of being killed in a cave-in. When workers enter a trench that is not protected, the walls could collapse without warning. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, one cubic yard of dirt weighs over 3,000 pounds and is enough to kill a worker. Smaller amounts of dirt can also lead to serious injuries.

Between 2000 and 2009, 350 trenching and excavation workers were killed after being suffocated and crushed in cave-ins. Investigations into the fatal workplace accidents by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration revealed that failure to use a protective system was the main cause of fatal trench cave-ins.

Cave-ins can be prevented at trenching and excavation work sites if the appropriate safety measures are employed. OSHA requires that employers have some type of protective system in place when they are in charge of any excavation site that is at least 5 feet deep. Sloping the ground, benching the ground, shielding the trench with a trench box and shoring the trench using supports are some examples of protective systems. The type of soil that is being worked with and the weight of equipment workers are using can greatly influence what type of protective system should be used.

The family of a worker who was killed in a trench cave-in may apply for workers' compensation death benefits. An attorney can help a family in this situation to gather the appropriate evidence for their workers' compensation claim and determine whether any non-employer third parties were responsible for the construction site accident. If that is the case, the family may in some cases be entitled to file a separate civil lawsuit.

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, "Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-ins", 5 February 2015

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