Few things are more frightening for construction workers than getting caught in a trench collapse. It’s a very sudden accident, it can absolutely be fatal and it may be difficult or even impossible for workers on the surface to render assistance after the collapse takes place.
So, what can workers do to prevent a collapse? There are some important safety steps to take:
- First and foremost, always use protection systems in trenches, and never go in an unprotected trench, even for a short amount of time.
- Understand the soil conditions. Some trenches — like those cut in rock — may not need protection systems, but you absolutely need to know what conditions you’re dealing with.
- Keep everything heavy — such as materials or heavy machinery — far back from the edge so that it doesn’t cause a collapse.
- Run tests in trenches to make sure they have proper oxygen levels and that they’re not catching dangerous gasses.
- Do your homework in advance so that you know where power lines, water lines and other utility lines lie.
- Never put a raised load over a trench while workers are in the trench.
- Never get into a trench to start a new shift without inspecting it first. This is most important after a weather event, like a rainstorm, but it’s really necessary after every shift — even if it logically seems like the trench should still be stable.
These tips can help, but trench collapses will still happen. If you get injured on the job, you must know what legal steps you can take.