Earlier this month, criminal indictments were handed down in the case of a 22-year-old construction worker who suffocated after the trench in which he was working collapsed. A jury determined that two construction company owners and their companies were responsible for causing the unsafe conditions that lead to the young man's death when they failed to follow safety regulations to prevent a trench cave in.
While safety regulations exist that, if properly followed, are proven to prevent trench and excavation cave ins, from 2000 to 2009 an average of 35 construction workers died in cave in accidents each year. Injuries and deaths related to trench cave ins are preventable and construction employers who fail to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's guidelines should be held accountable for the injuries and deaths that result.
There are numerous factors that can affect the stability of soil at an excavation site including the type of soil, weight of equipment being used, depth of the trench and weather. To prevent trench cave ins, OSHA guidelines require that the area around a trench be sloped and benched. Additionally, it's crucial to shore a trench with supports and to use a trench box to shield the trench. These guidelines pertain to all trenches and excavation sites that are five feet or deeper.
Construction workers who work in trenches would be wise to ensure they understand how and why cave ins occur as well as the steps that employers are required to take to prevent cave ins. Workers who notice that a trench isn't properly shored or protected with a trench box should not enter the trench. Additionally, workers are advised to always ensure that they have access to an escape ladder at all times and to immediately exit a trench if there are any signs of soil instability.
Source: CDC, "Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-ins," Aug. 19, 2015
WABC-TV, "MANHATTAN DA: WARNINGS OF UNSAFE WORK CONDITIONS IGNORED JUST PRIOR TO CONSTRUCTION WORKER'S DEATH," Kimberly Richardson, Aug. 5, 2015