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Trench collapse: OSHA says disregard of safety rules inexcusable

It is shocking that so many lives are lost in unsafe trenches nationwide, including in California. Every now and again media reports about a fatal trench collapse serve as reminders that these incidents are not accidents because they are mostly predictable and preventable. After the May death of a worker in a neighboring state, that state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration's investigators determined that, as in most instances of collapsing trenches, this also was preventable.

OSHA found the excavating company that employed the two workers who became trapped had willfully violated safety regulations. They determined that the shoring of the trench was not in compliance with federal safety regulations. Apparently, the worker who died had no chance of escaping the tons of soil covering him when the trench wall collapsed because he was kneeling on all fours at the time.

In addition to the lack of a trench box or other safety precautions to prevent collapse, the workers in the trench had no ladder to provide a quick and safe exit. OSHA authorities said the prescribed safety regulations are tried and tested methods to secure the walls of trenches, and noncompliance is inexcusable. It is not clear whether the surviving second worker suffered any injuries.

The outcome of an OSHA investigation such as this one may help surviving family members who have lost a loved one in a trench collapse to achieve some level of closure. However, the financial consequences with which they have to cope at this difficult time are typically substantial. The California workers' compensation insurance system is there to provide assistance. They may file death benefits claims for coverage of end-of-life expenses and income losses.

Source: Portland, OR Patch, "Worker's Death in Trench Collapse Leads to Fines by State", Colin Miner, Nov. 1, 2016

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