Despite all the emphasis put on trench safety by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, excavations continue to collapse nationwide, including Tennessee. Safety authorities say construction workers should guard against the complacency that often develops after frequent trench work without mishaps. Unsecured trenches on construction sites can collapse unexpectedly, often with catastrophic consequences.
Construction workers can refuse to enter unprotected trenches that are deeper than five feet -- except if the trenches are cut into solid rock. An experienced individual must be appointed to analyze the soil and other aspects of trench safety to determine the suitable protective measures. To prevent walls from caving in, trench walls can be sloped, which is angling the walls out at specific grades, based on the soil type and the depth of the excavation. Benching is a similar system, with the sloped walls are benched at regular intervals.
Another method is shoring, which involves reinforcing the trench walls with hydraulic braces and aluminum or timber shores and sheeting. Trench boxes or shielding is a method that makes use of solid plates along the trench walls that are held in place by cross members. To ensure quick escape for workers in a trench, a ladder that is adequately secured and extends at least 36 inches above the edge of the trench is essential.
Tennessee workers who have suffered trench-related accidents on construction sites will likely be eligible for financial assistance. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can help with the navigation of the claims process. The insurance program typically offers benefits that include payment of medical expenses along with a wage-replacement package.