Workers in Louisiana and nationwide will always risk their lives if they work in trenches without supported walls. Regardless of the experience of the excavation crew, disturbed earth is unstable. Taking measures to support the walls should not be optional.

Activities of workers and heavy equipment in the immediate area exacerbate the risk of catastrophic trench collapses. The risk level is the same, regardless of whether the worker will be in the trench for hours or only a few minutes — collapses occur in the blink of an eye.

Contributing factors to cave-ins

The weight of a cubic yard of soil can be as much as 2,700 pounds. Thus, one should take every precaution to mitigate the hazards caused by the following factors:

  • The soil, earth or dirt type
  • The soil’s moisture content
  • Expected weather conditions
  • The depth of the planned trench
  • Previous excavations or soil disturbances
  • How long the trench will be open
  • Seismic activity, nearby railroads and machinery vibration
  • Expected weight and movement nearby
  • Adjacent structures
  • Type of trench box or other shoring equipment used

Additional safety hazards

Although cave-ins are significant dangers when workers are in and around trenches, other potential safety hazards must receive the necessary consideration.

The following risks should form a part of the safety protocols related to trench work:

  • Personal protective equipment, such as hard hats, steel-toed boots and eye protection
  • Slip, trip and fall hazards
  • Safe use of heavy equipment in and around the trench
  • Prevention of falling or dropped objects from above
  • Potential risks related to the presence of water, sewage and electricity in the trench
  • Adjacent structures collapse risk
  • Bystanders or workers falling over the edge of the trench
  • The safety and suitability of egress equipment

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, trench collapses and all the other work-related accidents on construction sites are preventable by complying with prescribed safety standards and guidelines. Proactive employers doing routine safety checks is crucial. Furthermore, allowing only essential workers in the excavation area and providing the necessary safety training can help prevent catastrophes.

Employers in Louisiana are responsible for the health and safety of their employees. When workplace accidents occur, injured workers are typically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits to cover their medical bills and a portion of lost wages. Similarly, the surviving family members of workers who lost their lives in on-the-job accidents may file claims for death benefits, including compensation for the cost of end-of-life arrangements and lost income.