Trench and Excavation Collapse Injuries
According to the Department of Labor and Industries, 15 workers died in the state of Washington as a result of excavation activities from 1998 to 2008. Excavations and trenches are dangerous due to the location of equipment close to vertical walls of an excavation or when workers are working inside the excavation. The weight and vibration of heavy equipment can cause the walls of trenches to collapse if the trench is not properly shored up or secured from collapse. As a result, a number of safety regulations have been enacted to prevent construction worker injuries and deaths.
A general contractor has a duty to every employee on the jobsite, including employees of subcontractors, to comply with all applicable safety regulations. Stute v. P.B.M.C., Inc., 114 Wn.2d 454, 788 P.2d 545 (1990). The Washington Industrial Safety Act of 1973, RCW 49.17 et seq., codifies the duties of general and subcontractors towards employees on a job site. Specifically, RCW 49.17.060 provides that (1) general and subcontractors shall furnish to each employee a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injury or death; and (2) general and subcontractors shall comply with WISHA regulations promulgated under the Act. In Stute, supra, the court opined:
Inasmuch as both the general and subcontractor come within the statutory definition of employer, the primary employer, the general contractor, has, as a matter of policy, the duty to comply with or ensure compliance with WISHA and its regulations. A general contractor’s supervisory authority places the general in the best position to ensure compliance with safety regulations. For this reason, the prime responsibility for safety of all workers should rest on the general contractor.
Stute, supra, at 463 (emphasis added). “WISHA regulations should be construed to protect not only an employer’s own employees, but all employees who may be harmed by the employer’s violation of the regulations.” Goucher v. J.R. Simplot, Co., 104 Wn.2d 662, 672, 709 P.2d 774 (1985).
In the context of trenches and excavations, WISHA regulations require the use of protection systems to prevent collapse of any trench or excavation deeper than 4 feet or shallower when subject to potential erosion or collapse. Contractors are required to use sloping and benching schemes to shore up the side walls, shoring systems to prevent collapse, or a shield system like a steel or aluminum shield box. The photograph below is an example of a shoring system:
Our lawyers have decades of experience in assisting injured construction workers and their families following injuries on the job. We have collected millions of dollars for injury victims and their families, gaining a reputation for tenacity, grit, and a highly ethical practice that gets results for our clients. By enforcing job safety regulations and demanding accountability for injuries, we hope to make construction sites safer for all workers.
Because construction sites often involve multiple employers working on different aspects of the construction project, you should consult with an experienced construction injury attorney to determine if you are entitled to compensation for your injury or the death of a loved one. We offer a free case evaluation and will answer your questions to help you determine your best options following a serious injury on a construction site. We want to help. Contact us today.