Trench-related workplace fatalities – including workplace fatalities due to trench collapses – have increased at an "alarming" rate this year, prompting the U.S. Department of Labor to increase enforcement of trench and excavation work nationwide.
That's according to a recent announcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
"The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is calling on all employers engaged in trenching and excavation activities to act immediately to ensure that required protections are fully in place every single time their employees step down into or work near a trench," Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker said in a recent statement.
Trench excavation accidents often result in serious workplace injuries covered by workers' compensation. In some cases, injured workers may also be able to pursue compensation by filing a third-party claim. The key is to review your legal rights and potential legal options with an attorney as soon as possible.
Trench accident statistics
According to OSHA, 22 workers were killed in trench-related accidents nationwide during the first six months of this year. That figure is more than the number of people who died while doing trench or excavation work last year. In 2021, a total of 15 people died in work-related trench accidents.
From 2011 to 2018, an average of 20 people per year died while working on trenching or excavation projects, according to OSHA and based on statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2019, that figure jumped to 24 deaths per year.
Why do trench collapses and excavation accidents happen?
Workplace accidents involving trench work and excavation work often occur due to negligence by employers, according to OSHA.
"Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards," Parker said. "There simply is no excuse for ignoring safety requirements to prevent trench collapses and cave-ins and leaving families, friends, and co-workers to grieve when the solutions are so well-understood."
Examples of reckless or negligent behavior that result in an excavation accident, trench collapse, or another type of trench-related workplace accident include:
- Failure to properly inspect a trench before beginning work.
- Not installing trench protection systems. These systems are designed to prevent trench collapses and warn workers about a possible trench collapse.
- Improperly storing soil or other heavy materials near a trench. The weight of these materials can cause the trench to collapse. Keep in mind that one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a small car, or around 4,000 pounds.
- Ensuring trenches are free of standing water before beginning work. Water accumulation can damage the sides of the trench and make it difficult for workers to get out.
- Creating a safe way for workers to enter and exit a trench that does not compromise the trench.
Trench collapses and other excavation work accidents occur for many different reasons, but the important thing to remember is that you need to fully understand your legal rights if you were hurt while on the job. For example, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. You might also be able to take legal action against a negligent third party, such as a subcontractor.
How can a workers' compensation attorney help?
If you were injured or a loved one died in a trench collapse or another type of work accident, your lawyer can make sure your rights are protected and that you receive the financial compensation and support you deserve.
The experienced New York City workers' compensation lawyers at the Law Offices of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP can help you every step of the way.
Contact our law firm for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you. We have 12 offices conveniently located throughout New York, including five offices in New York City.