A man conducting pipe repairs for the Alabama Department of Transportation in Bay Minette, about two hours south of Montgomery, was rushed to the hospital following a trench collapse.
Our Montgomery construction accident attorneys understand that he was working in a hole when the dirt that surrounded him began to collapse. Other workers on the site were able to respond quickly and dig him out to safety.
But such incidents should never happen in the first place if those who manage the sites are adhering to the guidelines set forth by the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration.
The fact is, excavating is well-known to be one of the most dangerous jobs on a construction site. The greatest risk in a trench is a cave-in, like what happened here, and these incidents are much more likely than others on a job site to result in worker deaths. Consider that one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car. Entering an unprotected trench is akin to walking into an early grave.
In addition to a cave-in, other potential problems workers in a trench might anticipate would be:
- Hazardous atmospheres;
- Falling loads;
- Mobile equipment failures.
If the trench you are in is more than five feet deep, there needs to be some sort of protective system in place to prevent a collapse. The only exception would be if the excavation site is comprised entirely of stable rock.
Trenches that are 20 feet deep or more need to be outfitted with a protective system that is designed by a professional, registered engineer. Safe access and egress devices have to be set up for workers in any kind of trench that is more than 4 feet deep.
Some other basic general guidelines that need to be followed in trench work includes:
- Keeping all heavy equipment far away from the edges of a trench;
- Any excavated soil or other materials should be a minimum of 2 feet away from the edge of the trench;
- Site supervisors need to know where the underground utilities are located before the digging even starts;
- With trenches greater than 4 feet deep, supervisors should be testing for potential atomospheric hazards, like low oxygen levels, toxic gases or hazardous fumes;
- Make sure the trench isn't positioned under raised or suspended materials or loads;
- If there is a situation or condition that could have altered the stability of the trench (such as heavy rain), it needs to be re-examined;
- Everyone working inside the trench should be outfitted with bright, reflective clothing.
OSHA actually recommends that trenches be looked over every day by a "competent person" before a worker goes inside. This would be an individual who knows how to identify any existing or predictable dangers or working conditions that could pose a risk to employee health or safety.