Why Are Trench Collapses So Dangerous?

Why Are Trench Collapses So Dangerous?While a lot of construction work has been revamped and modernized throughout the years, working in trenches is still common practice for some important aspects of our everyday lives. Trenches need to be dug to install things like utility lines and pipelines—but the dangers of working in trenches has not been reduced by any means. While there are plenty of safety measures that are required to be in place during a job, some employers still tend to cut corners, so costs remain low.

It is hard to believe, but there has been a significant rise in the number of workers dying in trenches in recent years. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that more construction and excavation workers died in the first six months of 2022 than in all of 2021 combined. From January to June of 2022, there were 22 fatalities compared to the overall 15 fatalities in 2021. Plus, these fatalities that happen in trenches are two times more likely to occur there than in any other construction area. The worst part is that these tragedies are completely preventable if all the required safety measures are put in place at the worksite.

Common causes for trench collapses in Charlotte

Trench collapses are unfortunately not new to the Charlotte, North Carolina area. A construction worker was killed just this summer when a trench collapsed as he was inside doing work for a housing development. Another job site in Charlotte County claimed the lives of two more construction workers back in May. A special operations crew worked to ensure the trench did not collapse any further, but it was hours before they could recover one victim and even locate the second.

While trenches can collapse for various reasons, there seem to be a few common underlying causes which are listed below.

  • Improper sloping. On OSHA’s website, they list the three ways to prevent construction accidents in trenches. Sloping, shoring, and shielding the trench walls are the bare minimum of what is required. However, everything can easily cave in when the walls are not properly angled.
  • Flooding. Rain-soaked soil can cause such a change in texture that even walls which were properly sloped can shift and ultimately lead to a collapse.
  • Unstable soil. Sometimes the soil itself is not able to support the work that needs to be done on it. Testing needs to be performed to ensure sloping the soil is possible. Heavy construction equipment can also put the ground under a lot of stress, which can make it weaker and more likely to collapse.
  • Negligence. When employers prefer to cut corners to stay on or under budget for a project, it can be deadly. OSHA also requires additional safety measures for workers as they are on the job site. There need to be designated safe entrances and exits, no equipment or materials near the edge of the trench, and heightened awareness for standing water or other potential hazards.

Injuries caused by trench collapses

People may not realize it, but dirt is heavier than it looks. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) mentioned that one square yard of dirt can weigh equal to, and sometimes even more than, 3,000 pounds—about the same weight as a car. So, it is no surprise that a trench collapse can cause some pretty serious injuries like:

  • Asphyxiation – Because trenches can cave in while a worker is completely underground, they can end up completely buried in dirt and deprived of oxygen.
  • Broken bones – The weight and force of the dirt itself falling in can easily crush a construction worker, which can lead to bone fractures.
  • Electrocution – Depending on what kind of work is being done at the time, it is possible that a construction worker could be electrocuted if there are live wires underground with them.
  • Death – This is unfortunately the most common outcome of a trench collapse. Sometimes workers are not able to be rescued for hours after the collapse if they wound up being too far underground, so it can be tricky—and lethal.

If workers are lucky enough to survive the accident, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation for their lost wages and medical bills. Medical expenses pile up fast, and these workers may not be able to return to the job for quite a while as they recover. A workers’ compensation claim can help them recoup from both their financial losses.

How can employers prevent trench collapses?

With the recent spike of trench fatalities, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a nationwide enhanced enforcement of the required safety measures. They found a clear linkage between more workers dying and more employers disregarding safety requirements, so they will now be putting extra emphasis on penalties for their negligence. OSHA will be appearing randomly at work sites to evaluate safety measures and will be prosecuting those responsible with criminal or federal charges for their actions, or lack thereof, that put their employees’ lives at risk.

If you or somebody you love has been injured in a trench collapse accident at work in or around the Charlotte area, reach out to the team at Price, Petho & Associates for help today. You could be entitled to workers’ compensation for your losses. Our attorneys have extensive experience handling workers’ comp claims throughout the state, and we have the resources and knowledge necessary to help recover the benefits you need. To schedule a free consultation, call 704-372-2160 or fill out our contact form today. You can schedule an appointment at one of our offices in Charlotte, Rockingham, or Rutherfordton.