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Excavation Accidents on Construction Sites

Excavation work is a crucial part of any construction project and is used as the foundation of almost every structure, from homes and buildings to roadways and reservoirs. However, it also exposes workers to dangerous hazards. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), excavation and trenching work poses a higher fatality rate (112%) than the rate for general construction work. Because of the increased risk of injury or death that excavation workers face, construction companies and contractors must provide adequate protection for workers. If they fail to do so, such negligence may give rise to a personal injury lawsuit.

The experienced attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy have dedicated their careers to fighting personal injury cases in New York state. If you have been injured in an excavation accident or have lost a loved one due to a third party’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the excavation injury attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy at 212-736-5300 or fill out our online form to schedule a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

Types of Excavation Accidents

Many construction-related injuries and deaths can be attributed to trench collapses. Trenches used on construction sites to lay pipes and cables are extremely dangerous due to their unpredictable material and location. Trenches are often located underground, are deeper than they are wide, and the walls, typically made of dirt, can collapse without warning, giving workers no time to get out of harm’s way. One cubic yard of dirt can weigh more than 3,000 pounds- approximately the weight of a compact car. Some other hazards include:

  • Cave-ins or collapses
  • Falls into trenches
  • Falling loads from above
  • Tripping over equipment or debris
  • Hazardous atmospheres
  • Mobile equipment malfunction

Although trench work can be extremely dangerous, many of the accidents and resulting injuries are avoidable. Understanding the risks associated with excavation work can better prepare you to avoid a future accident.

Causes of Excavation Accidents

According to OSHA, excavation and trenching accidents are often caused by a lack of training in machinery, as well as operations and procedures. It only takes a second for a wall to collapse, but if you have the proper preparation and instruction, it might mean the difference between life or death. In addition to poor training, other causes of excavation accidents include:

  • Failure of excavation machinery
  • Failure to properly shore an excavation site
  • Failure to follow OSHA safety regulations
  • Explosion of underground utilities
  • Wet weather conditions

Regardless of the cause of accident, if you have been injured while performing excavation work, you may be able to obtain compensation for your damages. Dial 212-736-5300 to speak to a qualified attorney today.

Preventing Excavation Accidents

As mentioned earlier, preparation is key to working on any excavation site. Before any machinery hits the ground, a thorough inspection of the site must take place, including taking note of natural habitats and surrounding artifacts of the area. Soil analysis is also important in order to determine which protective systems are appropriate to use. Below are some of the ways workers can ensure they prepare properly to work on an excavation site.

Protective Systems
When it comes to protective systems, it is important to know the 3 S’s of trenching:

  • SLOPE or bench trench walls by cutting them back at an angle inclined away from the excavations
  • SHORE trench walls by installing supports to prevent soil movement in trenches that are not deeper than 20 feet
  • SHIELD trench walls by using trench boxes or other supports to prevent soil cave-ins

Additionally, some general trenching and excavation rules include:

  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges
  • Know where underground utilities are located
  • Test for low oxygen and toxic gases
  • Inspect trenches at the start of each shift
  • Inspect trenches following a rainstorm
  • Do not work under raised loads

Competent Person
OSHA standards require that trenches be inspected daily and as conditions change by a competent person prior to worker entry to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. This person must be able to identify prior and existing hazards and take measures to control the conditions.

Compliance Assistance Resources

OSHA has made it a priority to reduce the number of trenching and excavation accidents. In 2018, in response to a rise in trenching deaths, they updated their National Emphasis Program (NEP), ramping up its education and enforcement on preventing collapses. OSHA also developed a series of compliance assistance resources such as videos, QuickCards, and posters on ways to keep workers safe on the job.

According to the Department of Labor, there are five things you should know to stay safe when working around trenches and excavations. The steps are as follows:

  1. Make sure there is a safe way to enter and exit
  2. Trenches must have cave-in protection
  3. Keep materials away from the edge of the trench
  4. Look for standing water or other hazards
  5. Never enter an unprotected trench unless it has been properly inspected

Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations, but there are many steps you can take to protect yourself.

How To Protect Yourself on an Excavation Site

Unsafe working conditions are unfortunately common on work sites. Procedures and protocols can be overlooked, and the worker is left to figure out a solution, when in fact it is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe working environment.

But what can you do as a worker?

When a contractor or owner fails to adhere to the regulations putting workers at risk, they may be held liable for a worker’s injuries. These injuries can be devastating, not only to the victims but to their families. Many times, the victims are severely injured and are unable to return to work for an extended period of time, or even indefinitely. They will need extensive care for the foreseeable future. Some of the injuries that can be sustained from trench accidents include:

  • Death
  • Fractures
  • Neck and back injuries from falling debris
  • Amputations from machinery
  • Suffocation from soil collapse
  • Electrocution from striking an underground power line while excavating

In one case, we obtained a $10,500,000 settlement for a union laborer who was tragically killed after being struck in the neck with a defective saw. The 50-year-old was in an excavation trench cutting a water main pipe, when the saw he was using kicked back, striking him in the neck. The portable handheld saw did not come equipped with a table nor did it come equipped with a self-adjusting guard to protect the user from the saw blade teeth. This particular demolition saw was also known to kick back while being used. The lack of guard below the blade was a violation of the New York State Industrial Code.

Contact an Excavation Accident Attorney Today

At Block O’Toole & Murphy, our New York construction accident attorneys will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. We have an outstanding record of success obtaining more than $1 billion for injured individuals throughout the state of New York. We will not rest until justice is done for our clients. Notable excavation accident case results include:

  • $10,500,000 settlement for a union laborer who died after being struck in the neck with a defective saw while he was working in an excavation trench
  • $5,500,000 settlement for a construction worker who was struck by a rotating excavator, resulting in rib and arm fractures
  • $5,000,000 settlement  for a laborer who suffered an electrical shock while performing excavation work, suffering second degree burns and disc herniations
  • $4,250,000 settlement for a union excavator who sustained serious head and arm injuries after a pile of planks snapped and fell onto him, causing him to fall 12 feet to the bottom a trench
  • $3,075,000 settlement for a union plumber who was injured by falling gravel while working in a trench, suffering neck and back injuries
  • $1,204,087 settlement for a laborer who lost portions of his toes after a co-worker lowered a blade from a tractor onto his foot during excavation work

If you were severely injured or have a loved one who was injured or killed in an excavation accident, contact us today at 212-736-5300 or fill out our online form for a FREE case evaluation.

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