Workers' compensation: What is the role of a "competent person?"

Safety authorities in California and other states will use the third week in June to focus on trench safety. A significant number of workers' compensation claims each year result from excavation-related injuries and fatalities. The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that cave-ins can be prevented.

Construction workers will benefit from learning about safety standards that could keep them protected. The one who is responsible for safe trenches on any construction site is the appointed competent person. His or her duties involve inspecting trenches each day before workers enter them because overnight weather conditions could compromise the stability of excavation walls. This person must be able to identify dangerous conditions and potential developing risks, and have the authority to take corrective steps to mitigate them.

Some of the competent person's duties include analysis of the soil to determine the appropriate manner in which to prevent cave-ins. The walls of any trench that are deeper than five feet must be sloped, benched or shored by installing hydraulic supports, or by installing a trench box to secure the walls and enclose the workers. Utility lines must be located and marked to prevent unanticipated strikes, and barricades must be placed around the opening to warn pedestrians and vehicles of the trench location.

The competent person has many other duties, such as ensuring that a two-feet area on the edges are free of spoils and building materials and that no overhead activities occur above the trench. Routine atmospheric tests must be carried out, and water accumulation at the bottom of the trench must be monitored. Workers can refuse to enter unsafe excavations, but those who suffered trench-related injuries can use the services of an experienced California workers' compensation attorney to help with the navigation of benefits claims to recover medical expenses and lost wages.

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