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The Recent Rise in Trench Deaths

Rise in Trench Deaths, image of construction site trench next to building and construction truckIn a city like Chicago, there can be several reasons why construction workers must use trenches to complete a project. While it may be unavoidable to use trenches, employers should still make every effort to keep their employees safe from harm. Unfortunately, trenches pose one of the greatest threats to worker safety.

The recent rise in trench deaths has been alarming and several measures have been and must continue to be taken to protect workers and get them home to their families. No deadline or project is worth that loss. While Illinois has several laws in place to enforce trenching safety procedures, this significant rise in fatalities has necessitated an immediate review of safety regulations, construction practices, and training methods to understand what factors might be contributing to the rise in trench deaths and how best to address them.

In This Article:

A Rise in Trench Deaths

The construction industry has been grappling with a concerning rise in trench deaths, with trench collapses ranking among the most deadly hazards. Disturbingly, the first half of 2022 witnessed a tragic toll, as 22 workers lost their lives in trenching and excavation work, according to reports from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, this figure only scratched the surface of the severity of the problem.

OSHA records show that the year 2022 was particularly devastating, with a total of 39 fatalities attributed to trench collapses. This alarming statistic marked the deadliest year for trench deaths in a staggering 18 years. The sharp increase in trench fatalities has raised alarm bells within the industry and among safety authorities, prompting urgent investigations into the root causes of this disturbing trend.

Construction companies and safety organizations must work in tandem to identify potential gaps in training, equipment, and on-site protocols to mitigate the risks associated with trenching and excavation work and stop the rise in trench deaths. The focus should be on implementing proactive safety measures, such as enhanced worker training, the use of protective systems, regular site inspections, and strict adherence to safety standards. By prioritizing the safety of workers and adopting preventative measures, the construction industry can strive to reverse this disturbing trend and ensure that trench deaths are minimized to the greatest extent possible.

Why Are Trenches So Dangerous?

Construction trenches pose a significant danger due to the rapid and unpredictable nature of trench collapses. In a matter of seconds, a substantial amount of soil and rocks, often weighing thousands of pounds, can cascade down, engulfing workers within the trench. The sheer force of the collapsing earth leaves workers with little to no time to react, making escape and survival exceptionally difficult. The immense weight and pressure exerted by the collapsing soil can cause crushing injuries, asphyxiation, and other serious and often fatal consequences, leaving workers trapped underground without any means of escape.

Furthermore, construction trenches are hazardous environments due to their inherent instability. Trenches are typically dug into loose soil or excavation sites, lacking the structural integrity of stable surfaces. As a result, the walls of the trench are prone to collapse, especially in adverse weather conditions or when heavy equipment is operating nearby.

Even minor disturbances or vibrations from nearby construction activities can trigger a trench collapse, putting workers at constant risk. The confined nature of trenches further compounds the danger, leaving workers with limited space to maneuver and increasing the likelihood of entrapment during a collapse.

To ensure the safety of workers in trenching and excavation work and reverse the rise in trench deaths, rigorous safety protocols, proper shoring and shielding systems, and continuous monitoring are essential to minimize the risk of trench collapses and protect the lives of those involved in construction projects.

Reasons Why Safety Precautions Are Not Always Taken

The recent rise in trench deaths may be due to the rising demand for maintaining city infrastructures and projects. Short timelines can be contributing to this in that companies are more likely to cut corners on safety precautions to meet these strict deadlines. A few reasons why this type of behavior may occur include:

  • Cost-cutting pressures: Employers and contractors may be tempted to cut corners on trenching safety to reduce expenses and increase profit margins. Implementing comprehensive safety measures can sometimes entail additional costs for specialized equipment, training, and resources, leading some to prioritize short-term financial gains over long-term safety.
  • Tight project deadlines: Construction projects often have strict timelines, and trenching can be a time-consuming process. To meet deadlines, employers and contractors may take shortcuts in safety protocols, sacrificing thorough inspections and proper reinforcement, putting workers at risk in the process.
  • Lack of awareness or knowledge: In some cases, employers and contractors may not fully understand the gravity of trenching hazards or may underestimate the potential consequences of a trench collapse. This lack of awareness or knowledge may lead to complacency and neglect of essential safety measures.
  • Client demands and cost considerations: When working on utility-related trenching projects, such as installing or repairing water lines, customers may demand quick completion to minimize disruptions. Contractors may be tempted to bypass safety procedures to expedite the process, putting the customers’ water supply at risk and potentially resulting in significant financial penalties for the contractor if something goes wrong. The fear of incurring extra costs and losing customer satisfaction may sway decisions toward cutting corners on trenching safety.

Consequences of Cutting Corners in Trench Safety

  1. Increased risk of accidents: Cutting corners in trench safety can lead to a higher probability of accidents, including trench collapses, cave-ins, and worker injuries. Workers may be buried under tons of soil, resulting in serious injuries or fatalities.
  2. Legal repercussions and OSHA fines: Failing to comply with trench safety regulations can lead to severe legal consequences. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducts inspections and imposes fines on non-compliant employers. These fines can be substantial and may significantly impact a company’s finances and reputation.
  3. Project delays and additional costs: Ironically, cutting corners to save time and money can lead to unforeseen delays and additional expenses. Trench collapses or accidents may halt the project temporarily, requiring extensive rescue efforts, investigations, and repairs. Moreover, legal battles and increased insurance premiums can further burden the contractor financially.

When To Speak to an Attorney About Unsafe Trenching Conditions?

If you or someone you know is a victim of a trenching accident, it may be important for you to contact a lawyer to discuss your case. Here are a few examples of when to speak to an attorney about unsafe trenching conditions.

Unlawful Workplace Retaliation

One critical scenario that warrants contacting an attorney is when you fear unlawful workplace retaliation for reporting safety violations. If you have witnessed trenching practices that violate OSHA regulations or put workers’ lives at risk, you have the right to report such concerns without facing adverse consequences from your employer. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the process, safeguard your rights, and protect you from any retaliation, such as termination, demotion, or harassment that you may face for speaking up about safety issues.

Workers’ Compensation Claim

Another situation that calls for legal counsel is when you sustain serious injuries in a trenching accident. Trench collapses can lead to catastrophic injuries, such as crush injuries, broken bones, spinal cord injuries, or traumatic brain injuries. If you have suffered harm due to unsafe trenching conditions or inadequate safety measures, an attorney can assist you in pursuing a workers’ compensation claim to obtain the compensation and benefits you deserve. They can also help you explore the possibility of third-party liability claims against negligent parties, such as equipment manufacturers or subcontractors, to ensure you receive fair compensation for your losses and damages.

Wrongful Death

In the tragic event of a wrongful death resulting from a trenching accident, seeking legal counsel is vital for the surviving family members. Losing a loved one due to unsafe trenching conditions is devastating, and pursuing a wrongful death claim may be necessary to hold responsible parties accountable. An attorney can guide the family through the complex legal process, help them seek compensation for medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of income, and emotional suffering, and advocate for justice on behalf of their deceased loved one.

At Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers, we fight for workers’ rights. By holding employers and companies accountable, together we can stop the recent rise in trench deaths, keeping workers safe throughout Chicago and the rest of Illinois.

An attorney experienced in workplace safety and personal injury law can provide invaluable support and representation to help you navigate the legal complexities and advocate for the best possible outcome in your case. For a FREE case review, call (312) 600-6000 today. Discover why so many say… Larry wins!

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The Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers is one of the most successful law firms serving the greater Chicago and Tampa areas. As the leader in Injury, Disability, Workers’ Comp, and Employment Law, with more than $1 Billion in recoveries, The Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers has been named One of the Most Influential Law Firms in America by Trial Lawyer Magazine.

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