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Excavation work may pose risks to California workers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2000 to 2009, 350 workers were killed in trench collapses and cave-ins that occurred during excavations. In response, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has released information in an attempt to educate workers and employers on the dangers of excavation and steps that might be used to prevent accidents in the future.

According to the report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that majority of the accidents occur during the installation of pipelines and during power-line construction. Furthermore, data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests most fatalities occurred in trenches that were less than 10 feet deep. In a 2006 case study cited by the agency, a 29-year-old man was killed in a cave-in while inspecting a broken drainpipe in a 9-foot deep trench.

NIOSH notes that a cubic yard of dirt has enough weight to crush or suffocate a worker caught in a trench collapse, and a number of factors, such as environmental conditions and water saturation of soil, contribute the risk of such accidents. In order to limit the likelihood of accidents, OSHA requires that any excavation project that is at least 5 feet deep must implement a prevention plan. Options for protective systems include shoring the trenches with hydraulic jacks or shielding the trench using a trench box.

Despite these requirements and the best efforts of employers to protect their workers, collapse accidents still occur. As in the case study, these cave-ins can be serious and might leave a victim with catastrophic or fatal injuries. In addition to the physical and emotional pain associated with such accidents, victims and their families might suffer financial setbacks due to lost income and the cost of medical bills. In order to seek compensation for those losses, victims might choose to file for workers' compensation benefits.

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