The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is once again underscoring the hazards posed by trenches. In fact, the number of trench-related fatalities is on the increase, with 23 such deaths recorded in 2016. Workplace accidents involving excavations happen nationwide, including in Illinois, despite the strict safety regulations that govern trenches.
A trench is defined as an excavation in the earth that is narrower than 15 feet, and of which the depth exceeds its width. Any trench with unsupported walls poses the risk of a cave-in, which could be fatal. However, other threats exist, including hazardous atmospheres, falling loads from above, falls and injuries caused by mobile equipment.
Workers may not realize that they can refuse to enter unsafe trenches. Along with the requirements for securing the walls of the trench, OSHA regulations include the need for safe entry and exit methods for workers along with testing for atmospheric hazards or standing water, and the locations of utilities must be marked. Furthermore, at least two feet of the trench edges must be clear of spoils or other objects, and no loads must be suspended above a trench. All excavations must be inspected at the start of each shift.
Illinois workers who are victims of workplace accidents are entitled to claim workers' compensation benefits to cover medical expenses and lost wages. If such an accident claims the life of an employee, the surviving family members can claim death benefits, which will cover the costs of a funeral and burial along with lost wages. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can assist with the navigation of such claims.