Trenching and excavation worksites on Long Island are showing a sudden uptick in preventable accidents. On Monday morning, a construction worker was seriously injured after falling into a 12 to 14-foot trench on a worksite in Sands Point. Officials reported the worker was walking across a board placed over the trench when the surrounding dirt caved in. It took 75 firefighters from across eight counties to rescue the worker who remains in serious condition.
Tragically, two construction workers were killed just last week while digging a hole for a residential septic tank in Nassau County. Officials reported the men fell 30-feet down into the trench when the walls suddenly collapsed, quickly covering them with over seven feet of wet-dirt; both workers were pronounced dead upon their recovery.
Pedestrians who walk near areas where trench and excavation work is frequent have also been known to sustain injuries. This past October, a woman fell into a poorly covered construction pit in Midtown Manhattan. Witnesses reported the lid laid to cover the pit collapsed when the woman walked over it, dropping her 5-feet down instantly, and leading her to sustain a head injury.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (O.S.H.A.) describes trenching and excavation work as one of the most hazardous operations in the construction industry. One wrong move in or around a trench can prove to be a deadly mistake. It’s essential that employers prioritize the safety of workers and pedestrians by taking extreme safety precautions to prevent trench accidents and life-threatening injuries before a project begins.
What Causes Trench Accidents
O.S.H.A. defines an excavation as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by the east removal,” and a trench as “a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet.” Regardless of depth and width, both of these structures can prove deadly under the right circumstances. O.S.H.A. reports that nearly 60 percent of fatal cave-ins occurred in trenches that are 10-feet deep or less.
Trenching and excavation accidents typically occur under the following conditions:
- Cave-Ins: Trench collapses and cave-ins pose the greatest risk to workers and pedestrians, resulting in dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year.
- Weak Soil: There are several types of soil workers can encounter when performing trench work. Some are less stable than others and can cave-in more easily.
- Heavy Machinery: Construction equipment can cause dangerous shifts in the soil and increase the risk for cave-ins by adding extra weight to the perimeter of a trench.
- Working Near Traffic: Trench work near busy roads can be particularly dangerous when it comes to monitoring the stability of a worksite. The ebb and flow of traffic can compromise the structure of a trench, as well as pose the additional risk of vehicles accidentally crashing into the excavation site.
- Utility Lines: Workers who run into unexpected utility lines or natural gas piping increase their risk of electrocution injuries and exposure to gas leaks. Exposing these pipes can also lead to cave-ins depending on where the pipes are located underground.
How To Prevent Trench Accidents
Most trench accidents are a result of inadequate planning before excavation work begins. It doesn’t matter how many trench and excavation projects an employer has completed in the past. Every site is different and requires significant preplanning to reduce the risk of fatal trenching accidents.
According to O.S.H.A’s Trenching and Excavation Safety Report, these are some of the areas employers should focus on to reduce accidents:
Employers can start planning for trench safety the moment they begin to bid on a site. Traffic patterns, weather, soil classifications, fall protection needs, and surface and groundwater levels are only a few of the factors to consider when deciding whether a location is safe for a trenching project. If there are too many red flags in preplanning for the site, chances are there will only be more down the road.
There are four different types of protective systems employers can use on their worksites to prevent trenching accidents caused by cave-ins:
- Benching: excavating the sides of a trench to form a series of horizontal levels or steps.
- Sloping: cutting back the trench wall at an angle to form a consent slop.
- Shoring: installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement.
- Shielding: using trench boxes or other types of support to prevent collapses.
Not all of these methods will be effective depending on the type of soil on your work site. Employers must do their research to determine the soil classification, depth of the trench needed, the water content in the soil, and other operations in or around the site before they make a decision on the best prevention method to protect workers.
Additional ways employers can protect workers include:
- Make sure materials and equipment are free from damage;
- Training all employees accordingly on trench safety practices;
- Providing warning systems and zones for equipment surrounding excavation work; and
- Providing appropriate covers and barriers to prevent workers and pedestrians from falling in.
Employees who are physically working in and around excavation sites are ultimately at the most risk when it comes to accidents. Employers would ensure their workers are properly trained in taking extra precautions on the jobs. Suggested precautions from O.S.H.A. include:
- Keep all heavy equipment away from the trench edges;
- Identify sources that may affect trench stability before workers enter the excavation area;
- Keep extracted soil and other materials at least two feet from the edge of a trench;
- Be aware of any underground utility wires and where they are located before digging;
- Inspect trench often, especially after rain or snow;
- Do not work under suspended or raised loads; and
- Always wear personal protective equipment on the job.
Keeping trench and excavation work well marked and barricaded is the most effective method to prevent pedestrians from becoming injured when passing by. Placing covers and planks over trenches and holes for pedestrians to cross not acceptable or safe. Create a barricade that directs waking traffic far enough away from the excavation site to prevent pedestrians from harm in the case of a cave-in or collapse.
New York City and Long Island Construction Accident Lawyers
Our personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Siler & Ingber, have over 20 years of experience serving injured workers across New York City and Long Island. We protect your rights by maximizing recovery and securing the financial support our clients need to succeed on their road to recovery. Our winning attorneys know how to navigate through the claim process using our past experience as insurance defense attorneys. We are not afraid to fight and are fully prepared to take your case to trial to get a justified verdict over settling for less.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a work-related accident, our team at Siler & Ingber is here to help. With a 98% success rate, we have the experience and the know-how to help our clients achieve a favorable outcome. Contact us today at 1-877-529-4343, or schedule an appointment online anytime. We never charge a fee unless we recover money for you.