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Who Is Responsible for Trench Collapses?

By Grant Law Office on August 2, 2021

Construction machinery at a site with mounds of dirt in the background.

Trenches are narrow channels dug out of the earth with heavy equipment. They are used for laying or repairing underground utility lines, such as gas, water, or sewage. Trenches are also common in road construction projects.

When trenches are built on construction sites, there is always the possibility of collapse. Construction companies and employers are responsible for properly evaluating the risk of a trench collapse, using designs and safety features that reduce the risk, and finding alternative solutions if a trench could be dangerous for workers.

How Do Trench Collapses Happen on Construction Sites?

A number of different factors can contribute to trench collapses on construction sites. Common causes include:

  • Soil that is dry or loose
  • Rain, sleet, hail, or wet weather
  • Vibrations caused by construction equipment
  • Pressure on trench walls from heavy equipment or loads
  • Excavated materials placed too close to the trench
  • Failure to inspect the trench after weather events and before each shift
  • Inadequate protection systems

What Safety Measures Must Employers and Workers Follow?

Vertical walls composed of soil are generally unstable, and disturbances can cause the walls to collapse. Protection systems are needed to ensure worker safety. The best type of system will depend on trench depth, soil type, soil moisture, and other factors. Types of trench protection systems include:

  • Sloping: With this method, the trench wall is cut back at an angle to make a continual slope. Sloping shifts the weight of the soil away from workers and helps prevent trench collapse.
  • Benching: Instead of leaving unstable vertical walls, trench walls are cut back into a series of steps that gradually descend to the deepest point of the trench.
  • Trench boxes: Also known as trench shields or trench sheets, trench boxes are designed to protect workers from the pressure and weight of the soil in case of a cave-in. They do not support the trench walls. For trench boxes to provide proper protection, they must be used properly. Workers should always place the trench box before entering the trench, always enter directly into the box, never work in the trench outside the box, and never move the box while workers are in the trench.
  • Reinforcement of trench walls: Once a trench has been dug, the walls should be stabilized with supports and shoring. A support system can be constructed using timber posts, shores, planking and hydraulic jacks.

In addition to installing protection systems, it is essential to pile excavated materials at least two feet away from the edge of the trench, keep equipment away from the edge, and refrain from working around the edge of the trench if workers are below.

How Can You Recover Compensation for Trench Collapse Injuries?

If you have been hurt on the job in a Georgia trench collapse, you should be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ comp should cover all your medical expenses related to trench collapse injuries. It should also reimburse you for a portion of your lost wages. If a party other than your employer contributed to the trench collapse through negligence, you could file a third-party claim to pursue additional compensation from the liable parties.

Call Grant Law Office at (404) 995-3955 if you have been seriously injured in a trench collapse accident. We offer a free consultation with no time limit. Wayne Grant has been named among the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers and rated Superb on Avvo. Our husband and wife team of Atlanta personal injury lawyers are dedicated to providing high-quality, aggressive representation to injury victims.

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