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Avoiding death or injury in a trench collapse

Trench collapse deaths are perhaps the scariest and saddest of construction-related deaths.

They're scary because they happen so fast that once a trench starts to collapse there's often no time to react and no chance of escape -- just one cubic foot of earth can bring up to 3,000 pounds crushing down on a victim trapped within the trench.

They're sad because they're so easily preventable. There are regulations that every construction contractor should know that experts say could completely prevent these kinds of deaths if they were followed every place, every time.

Yet they keep occurring, with increasing frequency. According to information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there were more trench collapse deaths in 2016 than there were in 2014 and 2015 combined.

If you're new to construction work, how can you tell if the safety regulations are being followed regarding trenching and excavation on the jobs you're given? Look for some basic safety precautions in order to protect yourself:

-- Never enter a trench that's five feet deep or deeper that doesn't have a protective system designed to keep cave-ins from occurring.

-- Never enter a trench that hasn't been inspected that day for safety issues and structural failures. OSHA requires trenches to be inspected daily by a "competent person" before worker entry to ensure maximum safety.

-- Take particular care following rainstorms, which can make the ground on the bottom and sides of a trench unstable.

-- Never enter a trench that doesn't have enough means of exit. There should be a ladder, steps, ramps or some other means of getting out of the trench quickly and safely within 25 feet of every worker.

-- Make certain that heavy equipment is kept far away from the edges of any trenches to avoid cave-ins under their weight.

If you were injured in a trench collapse or are the survivor of someone who was killed in one, an attorney can provide more information about the possibility of a claim. Given that OSHA believes that trench collapses are preventable, there's a strong possibility that any trench collapse is the result of negligence.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "OSHA Fact Sheet: Trenching and Excavation Safety," accessed March 24, 2017

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