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Working safely in construction trenches

Surviving in the trenches sounds like something you'd be concerned about if you were part of a historic war, but trenches can also be something you see on a construction job. Even if you aren't working in a trench, you might be working in lower levels where ground has been moved away to facilitate foundation work, such as for a basement or road work. Understanding how to safely work in such an environment is important.

Construction employees should always work together to maintain safety. When one or more person goes into a trench to work, another person should remain above to act as lookout. The person looking out should protect those in the trench by letting others know someone is in the trench and warning trench workers about potential hazards.

Workers within a trench should always have quick, safe exit options. These might include ramps, ladders or stairs, and they should be placed at regular intervals in a trench so that workers who must exit quickly don't create bottlenecks or have to run along the trench for a good ways before arriving at the exit.

Trenches -- especially those deeper than four feet -- must be dug with support in mind. Instead of digging straight down, the trench sides must be slopped to reduce the chance of collapse. Mesh or other support systems should be used to bolster the sides of the trench. If construction workers are excavating under the foundation of a building or structure, then a well-designed support system should be used to support the structure above during excavation and work.

If you have been injured in a trench accident while working a construction job, you probably have a claim for workers' compensation benefits. We can help you understand how to file or pursue that claim.

Source: Atlantic Training, "Construction Safety Tips: A Comprehensive Resource," accessed May 13, 2016

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