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Trench safety for construction workers

New Jersey construction workers are constantly on the alert for trench cave-ins while doing excavations. However, there are other trench dangers that are just as deadly, such as toxic fumes, drowning and asphyxiation due to oxygen depletion in confined areas. In order to protect lives, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has safety guidelines in place for all trench workers.

According to OSHA, all trenches should have a protective system in place before a worker enters it. This may include wall sloping or benching and protective equipment for the worker. In the planning stages, excavation sites should be evaluated for the presence of electrical wires and other underground utilities. After the project is underway, a qualified person should inspect all trenches at the beginning of each shift, evaluating soil conditions, water levels and protective systems. Such inspections should be repeated as needed, such as after a rain storm or other events that may alter trench conditions.

OSHA states that excavated materials, or spoils, must be placed at least 2 feet back from the trench site or placed in a retaining device, such as a trench box. Spoils may also be temporarily hauled to another location. To ensure workers can enter and exit trenches safely, ladders, ramps or stairways must be provided for all excavation sites that are at least 4 feet deep. Means of exit must be placed within 25 feet of all workers.

A construction worker who has been injured on the job may want to meet with an attorney in order to find out the options that are available. In some cases, it may be advisable to prepare and file a workers' compensation claim seeking medical care and other benefits.

Source: OSHA, "Trenching and Excavation," accessed on Jan. 29, 2016

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