Construction Trenching and Excavation Accidents: Things to Know


Excavation and trenching work is some of the most dangerous work in the construction industry. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), anytime a construction worker is doing work in an unprotected trench, “the walls can collapse suddenly and without warning,” and “Workers do not have time to move out of the way.” The CDC and NIOSH emphasize that a partial trench collapse involving a small amount of dirt “might not seem dangerous, but not square yard can weigh more than 3,000 pounds,” which is the weight of a small passenger car. As such, even a partial trench collapse can result in deadly crush injuries or suffocation injuries for workers. Accordingly, excavation and trenching safety must be of paramount importance on a construction site.


Our New York construction accident lawyers can provide you with more information about these types of accidents and how an injured worker (or their family) can seek compensation.


What is Excavation and Trenching Work?


The terms “excavation” and “trenching” are not commonly understood outside the construction industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a trench is one type of excavation. As such, trenching work is a particular kind of excavation work. Here is what OSHA says:


“OSHA defines an excavation as any artificial cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground. In general, the depth of a trench is greater than its width, but the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet.”


Further, OSHA clarifies that cave-ins are the greatest risk in excavation and trenching work, but there are other hazards that may include “falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and hazards from mobile equipment.” To prevent cave-ins and other serious accidents on construction sites where trenching or other kinds of excavation work is happening, employers need to designate a “competent person” who can properly classify soil, inspect the safety systems in place, design appropriate structural ramps, monitor the removal of water from trenches, and regularly conduct safety inspections of sites.


Filing a Lawsuit After an Excavation Accident in New York


It is important for construction workers and their families in cases of fatal excavation accidents to know that there may be multiple options for seeking financial compensation. New York workers’ compensation should provide coverage for medical bills and lost wages, and depending on the circumstances, certain death benefits. Yet, more importantly, New York allows injured construction workers or their families to sue negligent employers for construction accidents that result from negligence. Several sections of New York Labor Law permit these types of lawsuits.


Section 241 of New York Labor Law specifically addresses excavation and demolition work. The statute clarifies that employers, including general contractors, can be liable for injuries that result from excavation or trenching accidents when appropriate safety measures are not followed. The law states:


“All areas in which construction, excavation or demolition work is being performed shall be so constructed, shored, equipped, guarded, arranged, operated, and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed therein in lawfully frequenting such places.”


Contact a New York Construction Accident Attorney


If you were injured in a construction accident or if you lost a loved one working on a construction site, you should get in touch with a New York construction accident lawyer to find out more about filing a claim. Contact Leitner Varughese Warywoda PLLC, to learn more.

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