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How to protect excavation and trenching workers

Excavation and trenching are some of the most hazardous jobs within the construction industry. Therefore, Minnesota residents who are familiar with this industry may not be surprised to learn that the fatality rate for excavation and trenching workers is more than 100 percent higher than the rate for general construction workers. Besides dying from the ground caving in on the worker, workers can also die from other dangers such as drowning, inhaling toxic fumes and suffocating from oxygen depletion. In addition, if they encounter an underground utility while working, they can die from explosions or electrocutions.

For these reasons, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, requires the construction industry to follow certain safety regulations to keep their workers protected during excavation and trenching. In the first place, because excavations are naturally unstable, those working in a trench should be equipped with safety gear and use protective systems in case a cave-in occurs. It is also required that the protective systems are constructed according to the standard requirements.

To further prevent cave-ins from occurring at the excavation site, construction workers must keep the excavated material, called spoils, at least two feet from the perimeter of the trench or excavation. Otherwise, spoils and equipment that are too close to the edge can build up and eventually fall into the trench and trap workers. It may also be necessary to haul the material to a different area. In addition, retaining devices can effectively hold spoils and equipment in place.

Construction workers who suffer injuries while working in a trench or excavation are entitled to file a claim for workers' compensation benefits. If a workplace accident occurred because of the actions of a negligent employer, the worker might consider contacting an attorney to see if further action can be taken.

Source: OSHA, "Trenching and Excavation", Jan. 25, 2016

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