Construction sites are often full of trenches workers use to build foundations, install utilities and perform other functions. If a trench is deeper than five feet, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires it to have a trench box. This structure helps to prevent trench collapses.
Winter is often a prime season for catastrophic trench cave-ins, as saturated soil becomes heavier and more unstable. Consequently, project managers should review their trench procedures to ensure they are not needlessly risking the lives of their crewmembers.
Digging the trench
Project managers can take a number of steps to protect workers from wintertime trench collapses and other trench-related hazards. These include the following:
- Exploring alternatives to traditional trenching
- Conducting atmospheric testing on deep trenches
- Adding stabilizing structures
- Installing easily accessible access and egress points
- Regularly inspecting the trench for signs of weakness and instability
Using heavy equipment
Heavy equipment is commonplace on many construction sites throughout Long Island. Whenever possible, project managers should keep heavy equipment far from existing or planned trenches. That is, the sheer weight of loaders, dozers and other pieces of heavy equipment may cause a trench to cave in.
Consulting the forecast
In abnormally wet winters, it is sometimes advisable to postpone construction projects or delay aspects of them. After all, even with a trench box and other safety measures, torrential rain or snowfall can weaken the integrity of a construction trench. Simply evacuating workers during periods of extreme precipitation may save lives.
While delaying a construction project until the soil becomes dryer and more stable may be costly, it is impossible to put a price tag on employee safety. Ultimately, though, if a trench collapse during the winter, injured workers may be eligible for substantial workers’ compensation benefits.