Page 20 - WV811 2022 issue 4
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Trench Collapse Injuries
 First, a few important facts...
• Working in trenches and
excavations is one of the most hazardous types of work.
• As many as 400 workers have been killed yearly in trenches and excavations across the U.S.
• Several thousand more workers are seriously injured.
• Most of the trenches and excavations in which workers are injured or killed are relatively shallow (5-15 feet deep).
• Many of the workers have not had excavation safety training.
The Weight of Soil
Many people don’t appreciate the weight of soil. One cubic foot of soil weighs between 90 and 140 pounds. Just one cubic yard of soil (27 cubic feet), weighs between 2,430 and 3,780 pounds. The human body isn’t designed to accept the trauma of having that much weight fall on it.
The deaths and injuries result from suffocation, crushing, drowning, loss of circulation, and objects rolling or falling into the trench or excavation.
Cave-ins are a simple matter of physics. Think about it. Before we excavate,
all the physical forces of nature are in balance. There is equal pressure in all directions in the soil. But once we start excavating, we create a void — an empty space. The earth will want to “heal itself” — except in stable rock, which is extremely rare — by caving-in.
The end result is that when trench walls cave in, and workers are not properly protected (by sloping, shoring, or shielding), they will most likely be crushed. They don’t stand a chance. And there is a mistaken belief that workers have to be totally covered up to die. The reality is that workers die after being just partially buried.
OSHA’s 29 CFR, Part 1926, Subpart P
- Excavations (hereafter referred to as “Subpart P”) was specifically developed to address the hazards associated with trenches and excavations.
OSHA’s definition of a “cave-in” has two parts:
1. The separation of a mass of soil or rock material from the side of an excavation, or the loss of soil from under a trench shield or support system,.
By David Dow
2. Its sudden movement into the excavation, either by falling or sliding, in sufficient quantity so that it could entrap, bury, or otherwise injure and immobilize a person.
There are many negative results of
a cave-in (aside from the obvious), particularly if workers are seriously injured or killed. Of course, there is
a significant impact on the injured workers and their families. And
there can also be large direct and indirect expenses associated with the cave-in for the employer. There are OSHA citations, which are sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. And finally, criminal charges can be filed.
What is the True Cost of an Accident Involving Injury or Death?
At least two very real losses are usually clearly felt by contractors and utilities when there is an accident involving injury or death on a job site. Below are examples of such losses:
Monetary Losses
Loss of skilled, experienced workers. Loss of profit from such workers. Loss of production.
Re-training expense for the injured worker to handle another job.
Payment of compensation.
Legal costs.
Awards paid out for lawsuits.
Settlement awards.
Increased workman’s compensation premiums.
Increased general liability insurance premiums.
Federal OSHA fines for non- compliance.
State and local fines for non- compliance.
Time Losses
Time investigating the cause of the accident.
Time processing the accident reports.
18 • West Virginia 811 2022, Issue 4

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