Construction workers face a bevy of safety concerns in nearly every aspect of their jobs. For construction workers engaged in trench and excavation work, safety is a paramount concern, given the large number of potential hazards that exist in these volatile and shifting environments. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, excavating is recognized as one of the most hazardous construction operations. Common injuries include broken bones, asphyxiation, head injuries and other crushing-related injuries.
OSHA laws ensure that workers have a fundamental right to a safe workplace by requiring employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. These very specific requirements also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law—including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury.
Likewise, the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) lists specific precautions to be taken in order for companies to comply with OAC 4123:1-3-13 Trenches and excavations. This law establishes strict rules for all relevant factors involved in trenching and excavation, including:
- Placement of excavated and other materials;
- Safety precautions for wells, pits and shafts;
- Trench specifications, including length, width, height and composition;
- Minimum requirements for shoring and bracing;
- Backfilling requirements;
- Excavation requirements related to all aspects of trenching, including walls, support systems, and materials used for sheeting, sheet piling, cribbing, bracing, shoring and underpinning.
For example, Section C – General Requirements, sub-bullet (2) states, “Additional precautions by way of shoring and bracing shall be taken to prevent slides or cave-ins where trenches or excavations are made in locations adjacent to backfilled trenches or excavations, or where trenches or excavations are subjected to vibrations from railroad or highway traffic, the operation of machinery, or any other source.”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that 271 workers died in trenching or excavation cave-ins from 2000 through 2006. Moreover, researchers from the National Institute for Occupational and Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that trenching and excavation hazards during construction activities resulted in 488 deaths between 1992 and 2000—an average of 54 fatalities annually. Of those fatalities, 68% occurred in companies with fewer than 50 workers, and 46% of those deaths occurred in companies with 10 or fewer workers. These numbers suggest that a lack of safety measures or training occurs in smaller companies, which in turn, places their workers at risk.
In 2013, Aqua Ohio, the company that was hired to complete the Heisley Road project, was twice cited by OSHA for safety violations. In particular, the company was fined $5,400 after it failed to provide ladders for employees working in trenches, according to cleveland.com.
Workers who are injured in work related to trenches or excavations are covered under OSHA and OAC laws. Likewise, companies engaged in projects involving trenching and/or excavations are subject to these laws, and liable for breaches that occur. Consequently, workers injured in trench or excavation-related work – or their immediate families, in the event of a work-related death – may be eligible for compensation.
Filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit following a trench collapse can seem like an overwhelming challenge for many workers and/or their loved ones. In so many cases, attorneys who represent the companies and contractors involved strongly oppose such lawsuits with the substantial resources at their disposal. The construction accident attorneys at Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A. are highly knowledgeable regarding the complexities of work in and around construction sites, including trench collapses and all other excavation-related accidents. Our skilled attorneys have deep experience litigating construction accident and death cases.
In the event you are hurt at work, or terminated after reporting a workers’ compensation injury, you need to seek immediate legal advice. Contact the Ohio workers comp lawyers at NRS Injury Law by filling out our No-Risk Consultation form, or call (855) GOT-HURT and speak with one of our trained staff members.
Trench and excavation safety resources:
OSHA Trench and Excavation Safety Fact Sheet
OSHA Trench and Excavation Safety Overview
OAC 4123:1-3-13 Trenches and excavations