June is the month for the annual National Trench Safety Stand Down. It is also the time of the year when construction activities in Nebraska pick up significantly, putting more construction workers at risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration focuses the emphasis of the stand down on getting construction company owners to remind workers of trench-related hazards and compliance with safety standards.
If you spend time working in trenches, you might not realize that you have the right to refuse to enter a trench that does not comply with federal and state safety standards. Gaining knowledge of the OSHA safety regulations for excavations can save you from a trench being your premature grave.
Common trench-related safety hazards
Each construction site must have a competent person who is responsible for managing safety on the site. He or she should be able to recognize existing and potential dangers and have the authority to take corrective steps to mitigate the hazards. You can also try to be vigilant and look out for the following threats to your safety:
- Trench collapses: The competent person will need to analyze the soil and order the appropriate method of securing the trench walls to prevent cave-ins. Depending on the soil type, protection can be sloping, benching or shielding.
- Hazardous atmospheres: Atmospheric testing is used to identify the presence of toxic gases and signs of too little or too much oxygen. If any of these are present, you must wear a respirator.
- Striking utility lines: Local utility companies are required to mark electric, gas, water, telephone and sewer lines to prevent unexpected strikes that could be deadly.
- Falling loads or workers: The lack of barricades, safety railing, signs or other warnings can cause workers at ground level to fall into a trench. Materials, tools and equipment can fall into the trench and strike workers, and activities or equipment suspended above an excavation can pose the same hazard.
- Vehicles and mobile equipment: Operators of backhoe loaders, dump trucks, and other mobile equipment might not have a clear view of the trench, and flaggers can prevent them from driving into the excavation. Make sure you wear a hardhat, and stand back to avoid being struck by debris during the unloading of building materials.
While these are the most common trenching hazards, you should always report any other dangerous circumstances or potential risks that might threaten your safety.
How will you cope with the consequences of a trench-related injury?
The Nebraska workers' compensation insurance system is a no-fault program that will cover your medical expenses even if you were responsible for your injuries. If you are unable to return to work as the result of temporary disability, the benefits will also cover a percentage of your lost wages. An experienced workers' compensation attorney can help you with the navigation of the benefits claims process to make sure you receive the maximum amount of compensation to which you are entitled.