Retaining Wall and Trench Collapses

In the construction industry, it is common for workers to be expected to work either near retaining walls or within trenches.

Retaining walls are structures designed to restrain soil at an unnatural slope between two elevations. Trenches, meanwhile, are long, narrow ditches frequently used in construction or maintenance of infrastructure, such as laying large pipes telephone lines or canals.

Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, know these are risky activities, and one structural error, a single failure of planning or the absence of proper oversight, can quickly result in a potentially deadly situation for workers.

In fact, excavation cave-ins are one of the top causes of death within the construction industry. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration reports the risk of death for excavation work is more than 110 percent higher than for general construction.

Lawsuits stemming from retaining wall collapse or trench collapses can be complex, and expert witnesses need to be well-versed in various construction and engineering areas, such as:

  • Soil classifications
  • Impact of weather conditions
  • Shoring components
  • Engineering and architectural testing
  • OSHA workplace safety regulations
  • Reports by these professionals
Instances of Wall or Trench CollapseThe instances of retaining wall and trench collapses in the U.S. are numerous in recent years, despite all we know about how to prevent them.
  • In 2011, OSHA inspectors at a water line construction site in Alabama reportedly spotted an open excavation in which workers weren’t protected form a cave-in. Just moments after the unprotected workers were ordered out of the 6-foot trench, the wall of the trench fissured and collapsed.
  • In December 2013 a construction site retaining wall collapsed at a New York construction site where concrete was being poured, trapping and killing one worker and injuring two others.
  • Another case in 2014, also in New York, involved a construction worker who was crushed by a cement retaining wall that collapsed on top of him as he worked on a residential basement project. The work being conducted was reportedly not properly permitted, and OSHA launched an investigation.
  • Also in 2014 in Alabama, a 31-year-old day laborer doing plumbing on a new construction site was killed, OSHA reported, after the subcontractor who hired him failed to ensure proper cave-in protection. OSHA cited the subcontractor for a single willful safety violation and another for a serious safety violation. The site’s general contractor was also cited for a serious safety violation.
  • And in New Jersey in 2015, a landscape excavation and snow removal company was cited following a 2014 trench cave-in that killed two workers installing a drain system in a 13-foot trench that had no cave-in protection. The trench had not been adequately sloped or protected by shields or shoring.
  • In 2018, OSHA investigated a trench collapse along the 1-95 expansion project in Miami.
  • In 2020, a South Florida contractor was fined more than $300,000 for serious trench-safety violations.

Construction of a proper retaining wall and trench requires time, effort and expertise – which are not cheap. For this reason, unfortunately, too many employers fail to take necessary precautions to protect workers. Trench accidents and retaining wall collapses are frequently fatal because of the sheer amount of weight that falls onto the trapped worker.

Specific risks for those who suffer retaining wall or trench collapse are:

  • Asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen in a confined space
  • Drowning
  • Inhalation of toxic fumes
  • Electrocution or explosion
OSHA Rules on Trenching and Excavation

OSHA regulations on excavation are found in 29 CFR 1926.650, 29 CFR 1926.651 and 29 CFR 1926.652.

These requirements state excavation sites must be properly vetted and inspected, there must be proper ingress/egress routes, proper ventilation has to be available, employees have to be given the right equipment and training necessary to do the job safely, and there must be proper shield and support systems in place.

The most common violations leading to injury are:

  • No protective system
  • Failure to inspect trench, wall and/or protective systems
  • Unsafe spoil-pile placement
  • Unsafe access/egress

OSHA reports dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries occur every year as a result of trench collapses.

Safety regulators advise workers should never enter an unprotected trench, especially one that is 5 feet deep or greater. Heavy equipment should be kept away from edges, and structural integrity of trenches and retaining walls should be examined at the start of every shift and after every rainstorm.

Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.

Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation

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