Construction accidents: Trench hazards under the spotlight

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is once again putting the spotlight on trench hazards and the number of lives lost in unsafe trenches every year. Workers in Arizona and all other states are at risk of being injured or killed in construction accidents that involve cave-ins and other excavation hazards. Safety authorities say the number of workers who died in trenches nationwide in 2016 was double the number of similar deaths in 2014 and 2015 combined.

Of all the possible trench-related accidents, the most significant risk of death is posed by cave-ins. Although these accidents are mostly preventable, employers who prioritize profits over employee safety often allow shortcuts when it comes to supporting of trench walls. Any trench with a depth of four feet or more must have ladders, ramps or steps to allow workers to escape in an emergency.

A competent person must determine whether trench walls must be shored, sloped or shielded, where utilities are located and inspect trenches for potential hazardous atmospheres. Furthermore, spoils and surcharges must not be placed near the edge of the trench opening, nor must heavy equipment be used nearby. No loads must be raised above the trench, and a thorough inspection is required before the start of each shift. Workers are entitled to refuse to enter unsafe trenches.

Injured victims of construction accidents can seek financial assistance with the Arizona workers' compensation insurance program. Families who have lost loved ones in such tragedies are typically eligible for survivors' benefits. The claims process could be challenging, but an experienced workers' compensation attorney can provide the necessary guidance to simplify the process to obtain benefits that will cover medical expenses, funeral and burial costs when applicable, and a portion of lost wages.

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