Construction workers in Oklahoma will likely all be exposed to the hazards associated with excavations, but not all of them realize that they are entitled to refuse to enter unprotected trenches. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, every excavation has the potential to collapse or cave-in. Safety authorities are putting additional emphasis on trenching hazards and steps required to prevent incidents of workplace injury.
Due to the number of trench-related injuries and deaths nationwide, Compliance and Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) have been instructed to inspect any open trenches they come across in their day-to-day travels or during inspections. This is regardless of whether any safety violations were readily evident. According to OSHA standards, before the start of work every day, the protective systems in every trench must be inspected by a competent person because changing conditions could compromise the stability of trench walls overnight.
Trench protection is required for any trench with a depth of five feet or more, and a registered engineer must design the support system for excavations that are deeper than 20 feet. Based on specific criteria, trench protection can involve benching or sloping of the walls at an outward angle, or shoring, which entails hydraulic supports that prevent the movement of soil. A third method consists of the use of trench boxes to shield workers from trench walls.
Unfortunately, a trench collapse typically causes more than workplace injury, as workers could be buried under masses of soil in the blink of an eye. Those who survive such an incident will likely suffer severe injuries, and they might be left suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, or worse. An experienced Oklahoma workers' compensation attorney can assist with the navigation of benefits claims to obtain coverage of medical expenses and lost wages. Families who have lost loved ones in trench collapses can claim survivor's benefits to cover end-of-life expenses and wage-replacement packages.