Like most construction accidents, a trench collapse can happen without warning and have devastating consequences. Also like most construction accidents, trench collapses are preventable if a contractor or employer takes the proper precautions and makes adequate preparation before sending workers into a dangerous situation. One company is facing severe penalties after an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation found numerous violations following a deadly accident.
The company faces over $100,000 in fines for actions that led to the collapse of a 30-foot trench and the subsequent death of two workers. Investigators explained that the walls of a trench can cave in with crushing force, and anyone in the trench at the time may become buried by tons of heavy dirt. To prevent this, an employer should do the following:
- Provide a protective system for supporting the walls of the trench
- Provide appropriate means, such as a ladder, for employees to safely enter and exit the trench
- Avoid stacking heavy materials, such as concrete or heavy equipment, along the edges of a trench
- Provide adequate head protection for those working in and around a trench
- Hire a consultant to regularly examine and assess the safety of a trench
- Create and use a safety checklist for identifying potential hazards
- Provide consistent safety training
OSHA’s investigation determined that the employer violated many of the above requirements. Additionally, a consultant had identified a hazardous condition that placed workers at risk of a cave-in. Nevertheless, the company continued allowing workers into the trench. This cost the lives of two workers and undoubtedly resulted in grief and struggle for their families.