Practicing safety when working with trenches

Trenches are a typical part of many jobs, especially in the construction industry and when working with utilities, but they also carry a very high level of risk -- higher than many workers realize. If there is a trench collapse, workers can be buried and seriously injured or killed in mere seconds. The amount of earth that falls back into the trench could weigh thousands of pounds, and moving it quickly and safely may be impossible.

One of the main keys to safety, then, is to practice caution from the very beginning. Here are a few things that workers should do:

  • Understand where all electrical lines and other buried hazards are located before starting.
  • Consider the type of soil that they'll be working in.
  • Pick proper trench safety devices for the job at hand.
  • Monitor those devices and do daily inspections to make sure the trench is still safe.
  • Keep all heavy items -- materials, equipment, workers, vehicles, etc -- far back from the edge of the trench.
  • Keep ladders close to the trench, usually storing them within 25 feet, so that they can be used to help workers get out in a hurry if needed.
  • Have a reaction plan in place in case a collapse happens. It's better to plan for an event that never happens than to have no plan when it is needed most.

Even careful planning and safety systems do not guarantee that an accident will never happen. Workers who get injured on the job need to know what rights they have to workers' compensation and what steps they need to take.

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