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Construction accidents involving trench collapses raise concern

Safety authorities report that the number of trench-related fatalities nationwide, including in Illinois, increased at an alarming rate over the past two years. They say that most of these lives were lost in construction accidents on residential properties rather than in road construction zones and pipeline dig sites. Residential projects that involve repairs or laying new sewer lines or water pipes proved to be most hazardous.

A spokesperson for a contractors' organization that offers safety training for trench excavations says the primary cause for the increase in fatalities is the decline in the availability of skilled labor. He says many skilled workers left the building industry during the recession 10 years ago. With the decrease in the numbers of construction projects at that time, fewer fatalities were recorded.

Now, with the bounce back of the industry, qualified or skilled workers are in short supply. This shortage has led to unskilled workers filling those positions. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has strict regulations for trench-related activities, one of which is the duty of employers to provide adequate safety training. It is crucial for inexperienced construction workers to learn about trench safety and the relevant standards with which to comply.

Illinois workers might not realize that they have the right to refuse to enter an unsafe trench that does not have the mandated support to prevent cave-ins. Victims of construction accidents or the surviving family members of those who lost their lives may be eligible for financial assistance. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can assist with the navigation of benefits claims to cover medical expenses, lost income and end-of-life expenses where applicable.

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