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Beware, unprotected trenches can prove fatal -- do not enter

Trenches pose severe hazards on construction sites in California. Although employers must provide safe work environments that are free of known injury risks, many construction company owners disregard prescribed safety regulations. If you work in this industry, it is crucial that you understand that you have the right to refuse to enter an unprotected trench.

A trench is any depression or cut in the surface of the earth that results from digging and removing soil. If the excavation is longer and deeper than its width, there are specific steps to take to ensure the safety of those who must work in the trench.

Why are trenches so dangerous?

Typical causes of injuries and death in trenches include falls into the cavity or loads falling from above onto workers in the trench. Workers in deep excavations can also suffer from a lack of oxygen, and hazardous atmospheres can overcome them. However, most trench-related injuries and fatalities involve collapsed walls.

How to prevent trench collapses

If you are in a trench when the walls collapse, you could be covered with soil, and considering that the weight of one cubic yard of soil equals that of a car, the threat becomes real. A qualified individual must evaluate a trench on any construction site, and determine the type of protection required. Unless the excavation is in solid rock, one of the following types of support is mandatory:

  • Sloping: This is done by sloping the walls of the trench so that the incline is away from the excavation.
  • Benching: Excavating the sides to form a series of steps can prevent the walls from collapsing.
  • Shoring: This method involves hydraulic supports to avoid the movement of the soil.
  • Shielding: Trench boxes are two-sided excavation support systems that allow vertical sides to trenches. The design and strength depend on the type of soil, excavation depth, moisture content and prevailing weather conditions. Additional consideration is necessary for the activities in the area surrounding the trench and the possible compromising of the wall stability.

Additional safety precautions:

It is essential to check the stability of a trench at the start of every work shift and during weather changes or water intrusion. Testing the atmosphere frequently to identify the presence of toxic gases, hazardous fumes and low oxygen levels is also crucial.

Place spoils and excavated materials away from the trench's edges, and do not suspend loads or building materials over the excavation. Furthermore, if you and your co-workers stay alert and report any signs of weakness in the walls of an excavation, you might avert the tragedy of a trench collapse.

Have you been injured in a trench collapse?

If your employer fails to comply with regulations to keep you from harm, he or she might also try to avoid paying your medical expenses and lost wages in the event of a trench collapse. Fortunately, you may utilize the support and guidance of an attorney who has experience in fighting for the rights of injured workers. A California lawyer can navigate the complicated workers' compensation claims process on your behalf while you focus on recovering from your injuries.

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