Residents of Pennsylvania and New Jersey have likely seen the stories about workers who have been killed or injured in excavation accidents. In New Jersey, three workers died in separate trench collapses in a seven-month period. In 2015, two workers were killed in separate Pennsylvania trench collapses, and two others survived their injuries in similar accidents.
Excavation is one of the most dangerous jobs in construction. Workers can be killed or injured by cave-ins, falling loads, heavy equipment, and atmospheric conditions such as low oxygen or noxious fumes. But this occupation wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous if all employers were serious about safety.
In its investigation of the October 2014 cave-in that killed two landscape workers in Boonton Township, NJ, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined the employer had failed to provide protections required by law. OSHA found numerous violations – the trench wasn’t adequately sloped, had no protective shields or shoring, did not include a ladder every 25 feet for safe exit, and provided no head protection. Had the employer followed safety protocol, those workers might still be alive today.
OSHA often issues hefty fines for companies that ignore safety guidelines. But those fines do nothing for the families of those killed or seriously injured in excavation accidents. If an excavation accident has harmed someone in your family, you could be entitled to compensation.
Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller has more than three decades of experience protecting the rights of injured people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and we work tirelessly to produce the best possible outcome for our clients. Find out what we can do for you. Call us today for a no-obligation consultation at (800) 529-6600.
Excavation and Trenching Requirements
OSHA defines excavation as any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal. Excavations can be any size, but trenches are defined as excavations that are deeper than they are wide and no wider than 15 feet.
Federal law requires employers to protect their workers in excavations by sloping the indentation, supporting the sides, and shielding workers from the sides. A trench box – a sturdy structure that can be inserted into an indentation – can protect workers, but it must be approved by a professional engineer, based on the specifics of the job site, such as water content and soil type. It also must be correctly sized.
In its investigation of the March 31 trench collapse that injured a worker in Evans City, PA, OSHA found the excavation company had used an 8-foot-high trench box in a trench 13 feet deep, which resulted in employees working outside the protection of the trench box.
In a press release about the investigation, the director of OSHA’s Pittsburgh office said, “It is completely inexcusable for an excavation contractor not to provide cave in protection for all employees working in trenches.” OSHA fined the company $144,000 for safety violations, including a failure to keep material and equipment at least two feet from away from the trench. And that wasn’t the first fine for the company – OSHA had fined it for four serious violations in 2013.
Setting an Example
It’s clear that some companies will cut corners and skimp on safety provisions, even if they know they could be jeopardizing the lives of workers. If repeated fines don’t deter businesses from this kind of negligence, maybe tougher responses will.
In August 2015, officials in New York City indicted two construction company owners on criminal charges for recklessly causing the death of a worker. The men allegedly failed to heed repeated warnings about the unsafe working conditions that ultimately caused a man’s death.
Workers have rights – most notably, the right to a safe work environment, and the right to file a complaint, without threat of retaliation. Excavation and trench workers who feel their employers are endangering their safety by failing to provide appropriate equipment or follow guidelines have a legal right to file a complaint with OSHA. Workers may also file complaints if they feel employers have punished them or retaliated, because of their initial complaint.
Help for Workers and Their Families
New Jersey and Pennsylvania excavation accidents have become too common – no one should suffer an injury or die due a business owner’s carelessness. If an excavation or trenching accident has injured someone in your family, we want to help you pursue justice. Call us today at (800) 529-6600, or contact us via our online form.