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Trench collapse fatalities on the rise nationwide

Many dangers can be found on New York City construction sites, as the city is a mecca for building and development during all 12 months of the year.

But there is one particular danger that workers often ignore, at their peril — trench collapses. Perhaps because they don't occur dozens of feet off the ground or involve heavy machinery weighing many tons, these type of accidents aren't considered to be as lethal to the workers.

However, that couldn't be farther from the reality of the situation. Last year alone, 23 workers in the United States died in trench collapses, and another dozen suffered injuries. These numbers represent a disturbing trend, as statistics provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicate that the number of fatalities for 2016 "more than doubled" from the previous year.

The assistant secretary for OSHA had a stern response, stating, "There is no excuse. These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know."

One of last summer's victims was a 33-year-old worker at a rural Ohio plumbing company. He died while digging a 12-foot deep trench that collapsed, crushing him under thousands of pounds of earth. It took rescuers hours to recover his body.

The subsequent OSHA investigation determined that the company was negligent for failing to safeguard their laborers who were digging in the trenches. Because they had not taken the time to properly shore up the walls of the excavation site, it collapsed.

OSHA issued two serious and two willful violations to the plumbing company. The proposed penalties were $274,359.

OSHA's standards for trench safety mandates that there be protective systems on all trenches five or more feet deep. Dirt and debris have to be no closer than 24 inches from the lip of the trench.

Contractors on job sites must properly train workers as Competent Persons to assess and evaluate the safety of the excavation sites, as well as the laborers toiling down in the trenches. They must also provide rescue training and have equipment readily available should a disaster occur.

If you got hurt in a trench collapse on a New York City construction site, you need to review all of your legal options for compensation, including future medical expenses that might be necessary.

Source: ROCO Rescue, "Trench Collapse Fatalities Double in 2016," accessed May 19, 2017

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