According to an OSHA spokesperson quoted by NJ.com, the deaths of two excavation workers were “completely preventable.” The two men died after falling into a large excavated hole on a residential property in Boonton Township, New Jersey.
NJ.com reported (10.2.14) that four landscaping workers were excavating a drainage pipe when the trench began to give away. One of the men became trapped in the trench and another man jumped in to try and save him. Both men were then trapped under approximately 10 feet of dirt. A third man suffered leg injuries after being trapped up to his legs in the trench. The fourth worker was uninjured.
Cave-ins are more likely to result in worker fatalities than any other excavation-related accident. They also post the greatest risk to workers who perform trenching and excavation.
The spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said if employers follow OSHA standards and use protective systems “trenching deaths caused by cave-ins are completely preventable if employers follow OSHA’s excavation standards and provide protective systems.”
Among OSHA safety standards, trenches should be inspected daily and when conditions change. The person doing the inspecting must be a “competent person” who is capable of identifying existing hazards or working conditions and taking corrective measures to eliminate them.
According to OSHA’s trench excavation fact sheet, all trenches five feet deep or deeper are required to have protective systems. For employees working in excavations of four feet or deeper, ladders, steps, ramps or other safety means are required. There are some exceptions if the excavation is made in stable rock.
Protective systems can take the form of trench boxes that help to prevent soil cave-ins, hydraulic support structures that prevent soil movement, and sloping of the trench wall at an angle away from the excavation site, according to OSHA.
It was unreported which OSHA guidelines the landscaping company followed.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that 350 workers died in trenching or excavation cave-ins from 2000 through 2009, an average of close to three workers killed each month. Fifty-six workers died in trenching incidents in 2011 through 2013, said the OSHA spokesperson in the NJ.com article.
Authorities were investigating the accident. One of their goals was to determine whether proper procedures were being following.
Under federal and New York State laws, employers must provide a safe workplace. If unsafe working conditions are present, a worker may report the violation to the employer, to OSHA, and in some cases, the employee may refuse to work.
Individuals who have been injured due to unsafe work conditions, or their loved ones in the case of a death, may be entitled to substantial benefits under workers’ compensation. Securing these benefits may be complex, particularly with accidents caused by an unsafe workplace. An experienced lawyer can help.
The NJ.com story cited is “Cave-in deaths ‘completely preventable,’ OSHA says after Boonton Accident.”