For more information or confidential
assistance, talk to an attorney today:
Call 1.800.469.7429
Se habla español!

Trench Accident Lawyer

Trench collapse seems like a freak accident that is a natural risk when working on a construction site. Every year, there are 100 fatalities and another 7,000 injuries in construction trenches, according to Purdue University researchers. The fact of the matter is: trench accidents are almost always preventable.

The construction accident attorneys at Edelman, Krasin & Jaye can help you sort out the facts from the fiction and hold employers accountable for their actions. Contact us for a free legal assessment of your case, anytime or day, at 1-800-469-7429.

What is a trench?

A trench is defined as a long, narrow ditch created by excavation. Trenches tend to be deeper than wide, which distinguishes them from ditches or gullies – and narrower than its length, distinguishing them from holes.

Statistics compiled by the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) show that it doesn’t take a deep trench to be at risk of a fatal or injury-causing collapse:

  • Over a third of trench collapse accidents happen in shallow trenches from 0 to 5 feet.
  • 26% of accidents happen at 6-10 feet and 26% at 11-15 feet.
  • Only 11% happened in deep trenches from 16-20 feet.

Trench cave-in statistics

A widely-cited Equipment World survey dug up alarming trench collapse statistics:

  • A whopping 41% of respondents said they experienced some sort of trench collapse on one of their jobs.
  • Among this group, 29.4% said they or someone they knew were injured in the collapse.

Deaths from trench cave-in in the construction industry

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows:

  • 271 workers died in trenching or excavation cave-ins from 2000 through 2006.
  • There were 488 deaths between 1992 and 2000.
  • An average of 54 trench collapse fatalities happen each year.

Purdue researchers said of all the cases studied, 65% resulted in fatalities and only 35% resulted in injuries.

Trench collapse accidents: possible causes

The Equipment World survey highlighted the following causes of trench collapse death and injury:

  • Unstable soil (76.5%)
  • Human error (29.4%)
  • Insufficient shoring/shielding (11.8%)

The National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that:

  • Lack of experience: 98% of workers killed or injured in cave-ins were NON-union members, implying that lack of training is an issue.
  • Poor site preparation and oversight: 94% of cave-ins were not adequately protected by shoring, shielding, or sloping.
  • Poor supervision: In 50% of accidents, there was an Official Safety Program, but there was no safety site evaluation conducted by a competent person prior to the accident.
  • Improper use of equipment: Within the 52 reports associated with Trenching and Excavation Operations from 1985-2000, there were 18 accidents involved equipment issues, such as: improper operation, work conducted too close to the trenching area, lack of signals, inexperienced operators and mechanical deficiencies.

Are trench cave-ins a preventable hazard?

There have been preventable safety issues identified in every trench collapse studied. Researchers cite the need for improvements in training, monitoring, management outreach, regulatory improvements, and technological advances in equipment to prevent future incidents. Government investigators summarize: “Two key observations from the initial review of records point to the need for a competent person at the work site and effective worker training prior to the commencement of construction operations.”

Employers are often ignorant of the true hazards involved with trenching work and fail to understand their role in providing protective equipment, safety training and adequate personnel to diminish the risks associated with the job. The vast majority of companies involved in trenching accidents are well aware of the safety issues their workers face. One study (Arboleda and Abraham, 2004) found that 84% of companies had received at least one OSHA citation prior to the trench collapse.

The CDC has added that: “Regulations and consensus standards describe engineering controls, protective equipment, and safe work practices to minimize hazards for workers during trench work and excavations.” They cite information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows smaller companies tend to have fewer resources and more accidents. Consider this: 68% of the collapses were to companies with fewer than 50 employees and 46% of the collapses were to companies with fewer than 10 workers. Economic pressures faced by hamstrung companies works against employee safety, but there is no excuse for cutting corners that jeopardize their workers’ livelihood. Companies that cannot provide a safe work environment for their workers should not exist.

Who is responsible for trenching and excavation accidents?

Workers may be hesitant to file a personal injury lawsuit against their employers, particularly if they need to return to work following recovery from their injuries. Your legal team will be sensitive to your needs and will thoroughly explore the event for all possible liability issues.

Sometimes the negligent actions of a coworker, manager, supervisor, or the company itself needs to be addressed; but in more than 75% of all cases, our trench accident lawyers pursue suits against contractors, subcontractors, vendors, suppliers, distributors and equipment manufacturers who do not directly employ the plaintiffs.

OSHA trench safety

“Workers have a right to a safe workplace,” states the U.S. Occupational Safety Hazard Administration. “The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law,” they add. They invite workers concerned with trench collapse safety and the quality of their worksites to contact the department and request a confidential inspection.

Preventing deaths and injuries from excavation cave-ins

The Center for Construction Research and Training recommends: 

  • Mandating shoring as a separate bid item to reduce trenching deaths, which has worked in Texas, Washington, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah.
  • Engaging in significant pre-planning activities, which include employing experienced safety trainers beforehand, exploring safety issues onsite before workers arrive, and placing competent supervisors onsite while the job is underway.
  • Avoiding shortcuts that result in OSHA violations and following OSHA protection standards such as: using trench boxes onsite, conducting daily inspections, offering ongoing training sessions for workers, eradicating standing water, and moving the soil pile further than two feet of the trench edge.

Common trench cave-in injuries

Workers who tumble down a trench are struck by objects, caught in between equipment, suffer electrical shock from tumbling equipment, and suffer different injuries depending on how they happen to fall. While trapped in a trench, workers can be exposed to all sorts of hazards that can sicken or gravely injure them – dirty water, sewage, hazardous gases, reduced oxygen levels, contact with electrical cables, or entrapment beneath heavy machinery.

Attorneys working on these cases commonly see:

  • Broken bones, including crushing injuries (36%)
  • Amputations, soft tissue strains and sprains, burns, organ perforations, spine damage (31%)
  • Bruises, contusions and abrasions (15%)
  • Asphyxia and collapsed lungs (10%)
  • Concussions and traumatic brain injuries (3%)
  • Electrical shocks (3%)
  • Disfiguring cuts and lacerations (3%)
  • Illnesses and cancers related to exposure to hazardous materials while trapped (<1%)

Trench collapse fatalities are all too common. It’s easy to see how rapid asphyxiation can occur when you consider that one cubic yard of dirt can weigh up to 2,000 pounds dry or 3,000 to 4,000 pounds wet.

When to contact a trench accidents lawyer

Speaking with a trusted attorney who possesses legal acumen and the means to help your situation can be a huge asset in helping you recover from a horrific incident like a trench collapse. In New York State, there is a two-year statute of limitations for bringing personal injury claims, so it’s in your best interest to contact a trench accident lawyer at 1-800-469-7429 as soon as possible so we can begin investigating your claim.

There are a few exceptions to the two-year deadline, particularly if the full extent of your trench accident related injuries was not immediately recognized. Remember, you don’t pay us a dime unless we take on your case and win you a fair settlement or jury award, so there is no harm in exploring how a lawsuit can help you recover – financially and emotionally.

Trench cave-ins & excavator accidents: resources