If you are a construction worker in Pennsylvania, you will know that just about every construction site has one or more trenches. Because excavations are so common, they do not always receive the necessary attention. Employers and employees become complacent, and too often, people disregard safety protocols to save time and money. You should never lose sight of the fact that a cave-in can take your life in the blink of an eye.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has strict safety standards for trench safety. Your safety is the responsibility of your employer, and you have the right to refuse to enter an unprotected trench.
Typical trench hazards
Before getting into a trench, make sure the following safety devices are in place:
- Trench wall security: Weather conditions and moisture can compromise the stability of trench walls overnight, so check trenches before each shift and after rain and other extreme weather conditions. Before entering the trench, make sure that the walls are sloped, shored or supported by a trench box.
- Hazardous atmosphere: Beware, trenches can expose you to toxic chemicals and gases, and insufficient oxygen levels can kill you in seconds -- unless you wear a respirator. For that reason, a competent person must test the atmosphere in any trench with a depth that exceeds four feet before you enter it.
- Mobile equipment: A reflective vest and hardhat are crucial when vehicles like backhoes and dump trucks work nearby. Spotters and flaggers might prevent accidents, but barricades must keep the regulated area around the perimeter of the trench clear.
- Falls and falling loads: Barricades or guardrails can prevent you from falling into the trench. Dropped tools or falling equipment from above can cause crushing injuries if they strike you, and workers must place any spoils or excavated dirt well clear of the trench.
- Utility line hazards: It is crucial to know the locations of any underground utility lines in the excavated area. Hitting utility lines can cause gas to overwhelm you; water can compromise trench wall stability and hitting a power line can cause electrocution.
How will you cope with trench-related injuries?
Many trench accident victims live with permanent disabilities or chronic pain and must usually cope with ongoing medical care and rehabilitation. How will you handle such circumstances? Although the Pennsylvania workers' compensation system provides financial assistance to injured workers, navigating the claims process could be daunting. Fortunately, help is available from an attorney who has experience in fighting for the rights of injured workers and making sure they receive maximum benefits under applicable state laws.