Federal and state safety authorities want employers to take all the necessary precautions to keep trench workers safe. Construction company owners in Florida form part of the annual National Trench Safety Stand Down in June, which has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration providing training and support to employers. Employers are encouraged to focus safety training on excavation trigger numbers, not only to limit trench-related workers’ compensation claims but also to save lives.

These start at four feet, which is the depth at which ladders or steps must be available to allow easy access and quick egress in emergencies. At this depth, atmospheric testing is mandated because oxygen deprivation or the presence of toxic gasses can cause death. The next number is five feet. At this depth and deeper, trench walls must be sloped, benched or shored or supported by a trench box, which must extend at least 18 inches above ground level. Trenches that are less than five feet deep can exist without shoring, but daily inspections of the integrity of the walls are essential.

Any trench that exceeds six feet depth must be guarded with fall protection such as guardrails. As soon as a trench is 25 feet deep, the access and egress requirements change to the provision of ladders that must be placed at 50 feet intervals. The rule also states that each worker must be within 25 feet from a ladder for a quick escape in emergencies.

These trigger numbers are meant to start further safety conversations to limit trench-related fatalities. Although the stand-down activities might create more awareness of the potential hazards, workers’ compensation claims will likely continue to be filed for injuries and deaths that followed trench collapses. Injured victims or surviving family members of deceased workers in Florida can utilize the skills of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to assist every step along the way of the benefits claims process.