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Workers’ compensation: Unprotected trenches can turn into graves

| Mar 17, 2020 | Workers' Compensation |

Workers in the construction industry are frequently exposed to the hazards of trenches. A significant percentage of workers’ compensation claims filed in California result from trench collapses. Federal and state safety authorities prescribe strict safety standards for trench work, and compliance can protect workers from cave-ins, hazardous atmospheres, falling loads and the dangers posed by mobile equipment.

According to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, each construction site should have a so-called competent person who must check the safety and stability of excavations before each shift and also when conditions change. Workers may refuse to enter unsafe trenches that have not been inspected, have no safe entry and exit ways, contain standing water, and might have a hazardous atmosphere. Trench walls must be sloped, shored or shielded.

Sloping an excavation is done by angling the walls away from the trench, and shoring involves the installation of hydraulic supports to prevent the movement of soil. The third method of securing trench walls is shielding, which requires the placement of a trench box to enclose the workers and thereby prevent walls from collapsing. Workers should not enter trenches that are not protected by one of these methods.

The truth is that most trench collapses end in fatalities, and in some cases, a co-worker jumps in to help, only to also be overcome by the cave-in. Surviving family members of deceased workers in California may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. An attorney with experience in this field of the law can provide valuable support and guidance in the pursuit of financial relief through death benefits.

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