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Rise in trench excavation deaths partly due to labor shortage

Illinois residents who work in trenching and excavation may be aware of a recent rise in fatalities within their industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 2016 saw a total of 23 deaths, which was double the average number of deaths in the previous five years. The BLS also states that, for number of deaths and injuries, 2017 was the worst year for trench workers in recent history.

This is partly due to a shortage of skilled labor. Though the construction industry has bounced back from the recession, it is now experiencing an influx of young laborers unskilled in trenching and excavation work. Builders may also neglect to check the reliability of the plumbers and excavators they contract with and fail to include requirements about proper excavation techniques in their contracts.

OSHA has set up trench excavation regulations and can assist employers with compliance through free onsite consultations. First, any trench deeper than 5 feet and not cut into stable rock, or any trench that shows signs of collapse, must be protected via sloping, benching, shoring systems or shielding.

In the first two cave-in prevention measures, the trench walls angle away from the excavation site. Shoring and shielding make use of specially designed systems. Secured ladders should be used for easy access. A "competent person" must oversee excavation and test the soil.

Even when employers follow the regulations, though, there can be accidents. Fortunately, victims may be covered for their medical expenses for a part of their lost wages under workers' compensation law. Though they do not need to show that anyone was negligent, they will be waiving their right to sue their employer in the future. They may also have their claim denied if the employer says they are at fault, so workers might want to hire a lawyer for the filing process.

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