Trenching and excavation are among the most dangerous construction-related operations in the country today. Employers and employees must be highly educated on everything from trenching safeguards to cave-in protection before engaging in this type of work. An incident in Massachusetts earlier this year serves as a grim reminder that employees cannot always rely on the employer to ensure the safety of their working environment. On July 31, 2015, Davide Nascimento was killed while installing a sewer line in an excavation. When a portion of the roadway above him collapsed, it broke a water main pipe. Water rapidly filled the excavation, trapping and drowning 28-year-old Nascimento. Contact a Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Today.
The inherent dangers of Trenching Work: The greatest risk to workers is the potential for cave-ins. They are the most common accident in this field and frequently result in fatalities. In fact, trench collapses are responsible for dozens of fatalities every year. Beyond cave-ins, other hazards include falls from high places, falling debris, hazardous or toxic atmospheres, and incidents with equipment.
Never enter an unprotected trench: Unless an excavation is made entirely in stable rock, trenches require a protective system if they are 5 feet deep or greater. If they are 20 feet deep or greater, the protective system must be designed by a professional engineer or based on a professional engineer’s tabulated data.
Know your protective systems: There are multiple protective systems, and the required system depends on the job you are doing. For example, a sloping system cuts the trench wall at an angle so that it slopes away from the excavation. A shoring system involves the installation of an aluminum hydraulic or similar support to prevent cave-ins from soil movement. A shielding system uses trench boxes or similar supports to protect workers from soil cave-ins. Designing these systems is extremely complex and requires the expertise of a registered professional engineer.
Always have a competent person: Standards set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) require daily inspection of trenches by a ‘competent person.’ This is an individual with the ability to identify hazards or hazardous working conditions, including those that may be unsanitary or dangerous to workers. This individual is authorized to eliminate or control such hazards by taking prompt action to correct them.
Make sure you have safe access in and safe access out: In order to safely enter and exit an excavation, it is essential that all workers have access to ladders, ramps, steps, and any other means of exit. If these devices are not well maintained or located within 25 feet of workers, the consequences can be disastrous.
Following an inspection by OSHA, it was found that Nascimento’s employer, Ludlow-based contractor A. Martin & Son Construction Inc., did not take the proper precautions to protect the water line from damage. According to OSHA’s area director Mary Hoye, “Mr. Nascimento would not have died had his employer followed proper procedures to identify and eliminate excavation hazards.” As a result, OSHA cited the company for two violations, each carrying a penalty of up to $7,000.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Law Firm understands your rights and is ready to help you and your family.
If you have been injured in any type of work-related accident, contact the workers’ compensation team at Altman & Altman, LLP. We have been protecting the rights of Massachusetts workers for nearly 50 years. Our highly skilled and knowledgeable attorneys will help you determine the best legal strategy for moving forward. Contact us today for a free consultation about your case.