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The dangers of working in trenches

Workers in Pennsylvania who excavate or dig trenches can be killed or suffer serious injuries if the trench wall collapses. These accidents often occur without warning, and workers are given little or no time to escape the danger. With a cubic yard of dirt weighing over 3,000 pounds, even small trenches can be extremely dangerous.

Figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that 350 workers lost their lives in this kind of accident between 2000 and 2009. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has stated that many of these deaths could have been prevented. Additional information shows that 64 percent of this type of job site accident occurred at depths of under 10 feet.

OSHA inspectors investigating trench accidents report that the lack of a protection system was the leading cause of injury and death. Trenches can be made safer by engineering measures such as sloping the ground or shoring up the trench walls with planking or jacks. The agency's guidelines advise workers to never enter a trench lacking such features. Employers are expected to thoroughly survey the area where the trench is to be built and to regularly check on conditions as the work progresses. OSHA guidelines warn workers about the unexpected nature of cave-ins, and they recommend that any signs of instability be reported at once.

The Pennsylvania workers' compensation program helps employees injured on the job by providing financial assistance to help cover the costs of medical treatment and make up for lost income. While the process is designed to operate without assigning blame, it may still become combative if employers dispute the severity of an injury or claim that it was not suffered while on the job. An attorney who has experience with these matters can explain the application process to an injured client and provide representation during appeals hearings.

Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, "Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-ins", accessed on Feb. 11, 2015

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