What Is a Trench Collapse?

What Is a Trench Collapse?To successfully provide buildings with the cables, pipes, and drainage that they require, construction workers must excavate. However, this excavation comes at a cost. Construction workers risk their lives to perform the necessary installations in trenches. Unfortunately, the soil and debris can shift without warning, the empty spaces created by the excavation.

This is called a trench collapse. It happens when the walls of the trench fail and thousands of pounds of dirt or soil collapse into an excavation site. Trench collapses are among the most dangerous types of construction site accidents that can happen. When a trench collapses, it can cause other hazardous threats to construction workers, like burst pipes and exposure to chemicals.

What causes a trench collapse on a construction site?

There are several situations that can cause a trench to collapse. These include:

Inadequate protection systems

Before a trench is even excavated, there are procedures that construction companies can use to protect their workers from trench accidents. These procedures include using the right protection system that can protect the employees from being crushed in a trench collapse. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends:

  • Sloping. Sloping is a technique that cuts the trench wall back at an angle. This helps form a consistent slope that can decrease the chances of a large amount of dirt piling up.
  • Shoring. Shoring is a technique where the trench wall is stabilized with timber supports.
  • Shielding. Shielding is a technique where construction workers use trench boxes or other types of supports to protect other construction workers from a collapse.

Stress loading the soil

Another cause of trench collapses is additional stress added to the trench wall, such as when there are heavy pieces of construction equipment that are located too close to the trench wall. This type of dangerous condition can be prevented by keeping any construction equipment at a safe distance.

Failure to inspect the trench

There are so many factors that come with inspecting trenches, such as soil classification, the water content of the soil, and whether changes in weather, such as rain or snow, or the environment (like an earthquake would cause) have caused the walls to become unstable. When construction companies fail to properly inspect trench walls before each shift and after inclement weather conditions, it can place construction workers in danger.


Trench walls are in danger of collapsing when they are close to other elements that cause vibration to occur. Traffic and construction equipment, in particular, can cause vibration, which can cause the soil in the trench wall to destabilize. Implementing the right protection systems can reduce this risk.

What injuries can result from trench collapses?

The reason why trench collapses are among the most dangerous construction site accidents is because of the serious injuries they cause. Construction workers who are trapped in caved-in trenches suffer serious injuries from suffocation, including brain damage. They can sustain broken bones and crushed limbs. Sadly, many construction workers won’t survive a trench collapse: in 2022 alone, there have been 13 worker fatalities from trench collapses. Even if the construction worker is able to endure the thousands of pounds of soil, they are likely to be injured from other serious hazards. A construction worker can drown from the water released from burst pipes or become exposed to other toxic chemicals within the excavation site.

Can I claim workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania for a trench collapse?

Workers’ compensation benefits cover financial compensation for a worker’s medical costs and lost wages. This is a no-fault system provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and eligible employees may seek these benefits regardless of the cause of their injuries. If your injury results in a permanent disability, you can also file for permanent disability benefits for your injuries.

However, sometimes your workers’ compensation benefits do not provide enough coverage for your expenses. Some workers may not be eligible for benefits, either. In these situations, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against other parties who can be held liable for your injuries.

Third-party liability claims for worksite injuries

If you want to file a lawsuit against other parties outside of your employer whose negligence also contributed to your trench accident, you can do so through a third-party claim. Depending on the circumstances of your trench collapse, you can hold the following parties liable through a third-party claim:

  • General contractors
  • Independent contractors
  • Construction property owners
  • Designers on the project
  • Engineers
  • Tool manufacturers

One of the main benefits of a third-party claim is that you have the chance to hold other parties liable for your injuries. With a workers’ compensation claim, you can only receive compensation for your medical expenses and lost wages. In a personal injury lawsuit, you can also seek compensation for your pain and suffering.

The York workers’ compensation attorneys at KBG Injury Law take your injury as personally as you do. We take the time to listen to your wants and needs instead of treating you as just another client. Our primary objective is to alleviate the financial burden that your work-related injury has cost you. Call our firm at 717-848-3838, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We have offices in York, Lancaster, Hanover, Harrisburg, Gettysburg and all of South Central Pennsylvania.