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Trench excavation deaths go up in 2016 and 2017

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 23 excavation and trench-related deaths across the U.S. in 2016; this is double the average of the previous five years. The year 2017 saw 17 deaths, but when combined with the number of injury reports made to OSHA, it was by far the most dangerous year to date for trench workers. Missouri residents who work in the excavation industry should know what factors into this rise.

One factor is the lack of skilled labor in the face of a revitalized construction industry. Plumbers and excavators under a plumbing contractor would normally perform deep trench work, such as the digging of troughs for water or sanitary lines, but now builders are hiring unskilled young laborers as substitutes. A second factor is that builders often neglect to see if the plumbers and excavators they contract with are reliable.

OSHA has trench safety rules in place. All trenches deeper than 5 feet and not cut into stable rock must have cave-in protection measures in place. There are four types of measures: sloping, benching, shoring systems and shielding.

Sloping angles the walls away from the excavation site; the angle differs based on soil type. Benching is similar but makes “benched” intervals instead of an even slope. Shoring systems involve reinforced walls with hydraulic braces while shielding uses trench boxes made of solid plates.

If trenching and excavation workers are injured, they might file a workers’ compensation claim and be covered for their medical expenses, any short- or long-term disability leave and a portion of their lost wages. Workers are not required to show that anyone was negligent, but their employer may deny the claim by showing that the worker was at fault. This is why workers might want to hire a lawyer. A lawyer may assist with the appeal if the claim is denied.