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Safety Violations Can Change a Trench Into a Grave

Goldstein Heslop Steele Clapper Oswalt & Smith Dec. 10, 2021

If you are a member of a construction crew in Altoona or another city in Pennsylvania, you will likely risk your life frequently. Jobs on elevated platforms and scaffolds, around large construction vehicles like excavators, and inside trenches all pose life-threatening hazards. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has data that shows a significant number of construction site fatalities involve caved-in excavations and collapsed trench walls. For this reason, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has strict safety regulations and standards with which compliance is crucial.

Although your safety and health is the responsibility of your employer, your own vigilance will likely improve your chances of going home safely. When it comes to excavations on constructions sites, familiarity with safety regulations and the ability to recognize potential hazards are crucial. The slightest judgment error could change a trench into an early grave. A competent person on each construction site must ensure that all trenches are safe. You can refuse to work in an excavation that fails to comply with safety standards.

Trench Protection

As soon as the depth of a trench is five feet or deeper, one of several kinds of protection is necessary. Do not enter an excavation if it does not have one of the following stabilizing methods in place:

  • Sloping the walls outward from the center of the trench floor can prevent a cave-in.

  • The competent person might order the shoring of the trench walls with wooden or metal supports.

  • A trench box is another method that involves enclosing workers entirely, without the risk of being overcome by collapsing soil.

  • As soon as a trench’s depth reaches 20 feet, an engineer must be in charge of designing the necessary protective measures.

The only exception to this rule is an excavation into solid rock, which does not necessarily need supports.

Working in A Trench

Compliance with the following regulations can prevent cave-ins and other injuries while you work inside a trench:

  • Keep a clearance around the trench and never allow the use of heavy equipment in that area because that could compromise the stability of the walls.

  • Keep that same clearance free of removed spoils and other materials to avoid it flowing back into the trench.

  • Never work in a trench without a ladder or another method of safe access and means to make a quick escape in an emergency.

A cave-in can happen in the blink of an eye, and your life may depend on ease of egress.


Trench inspection is not limited to the start of the project. To maintain excavation safety, the following rules apply:

  • The competent person must inspect the trench for potential hazards before the start of each shift.

  • Continuous monitoring throughout the workday is crucial because weather conditions can destabilize the stability of the trench.

  • Be aware that rainstorms can leave water accumulation at the bottom of the trench, and it could also weaken the walls.

  • The inspector must also look out for utilities like electrical or gas lines, and the possibility of toxic atmosphere or insufficient oxygen is always present.

Although your knowledge of potential hazards might help you escape a catastrophic trench-related injury, accidents can happen at any time. If you suffered injuries in a trench collapse, your injuries could be life-altering. The support and guidance of an experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney can improve your chances of receiving maximum benefits under applicable state laws.