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Can a trench safety stand down protect construction workers?

Safety authorities use one week in June each year to remind employers and employees in the construction industry about the potentially deadly hazards of working in trenches. Even after years of holding the National Trench Safety Stand Down, cave-ins continue to occur. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 75% of the trench-related accidents that claim the lives of construction workers involve wall collapses, which are preventable by compliance with federal and California safety standards.

BLS further reports that the next two primary causes are electrocutions and struck-by hazards, which are also preventable. Safety authorities aim to get employers to take time during the stand down to focus on excavation safety by providing refresher training and reinforcing the importance of sloping, shoring and trench boxing to secure the walls. Also, they will reaffirm the importance of having utilities clearly marked to avoid unexpected strikes and the safe handling of equipment inside the excavation.

An interesting observation reported by BLS is that most trench-related injuries and deaths happen on Mondays. This could be because the wall stability was compromised by changing weather conditions over the weekend, and the failure of the designated competent person to assess the safety of the trench before work starts on a Monday morning. The danger of complacency and distractions must also be noted.

Construction workers in California who are dealing with the physical and emotional consequences of a collapsed trench, or surviving family members of workers who lost their lives, are typically entitled to compensation through the state-regulated insurance program. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can assist with benefits claims for injuries or death benefits where applicable. Medical expenses, end-of-life costs and lost wages typically form part of the benefits.

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