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Trenches pose severe hazards to construction workers

In a recent collaboration between the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other organizations, safety authorities held a trench safety stand down nationwide, including in Tennessee. Many people take power and water supply in their homes for granted without giving thought to the construction workers and utility workers who risk their lives in trenches and excavations to make sure those services are available. Every time a worker enters a trench to lay a pipe, cable or gas line, his or her life is on the line.

For that reason, safety authorities thought it appropriate to raise the level of awareness among construction company owners, contractors and employees. They encouraged employers to use actual trenches during this week to demonstrate potential hazards and safety precautions to prevent cave-ins and other emergencies. Workers were also reminded that they have the right to refuse to enter unsafe trenches.

The safety tips that were promoted during the stand down advised employees always to check that excavations have safe means of entry and exit, and they should never enter trenches that are not shored, sloped, benched or fitted with a trench box. Furthermore, the edges of a trench must be free of the weight of materials and spoils, and it must be checked for atmospheric hazards and standing or seeping water. A competent person must inspect all trenches before workers enter them.

Utility and construction workers who are trapped in collapsed trenches have very little chance of survival, and those who survive could suffer severe crushing injuries. Furthermore, such an experience can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of cave-ins in Tennessee may seek financial relief by filing benefits claims with the workers' compensation insurance program for coverage of medical expenses and lost wages. The surviving family members of workers who lose their lives in such accidents may seek death benefits to obtain compensation for funeral and burial costs.

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