Trench collapses spark WorkCover safety warning

Date: Mar 09, 2015

WorkCover NSW has issued a warning regarding the dangers of trench collapses following two recent incidents that resulted in injuries and a death.

Earlier this month, two Sydney-based workers were nearly killed when a five-metre-deep trench caved in around them. They were later admitted to hospital, with an investigation showing they could easily have died.

The inquiry is still underway, but WorkCover has urged businesses to consider whether or not the trenches in which their employees operate are as safe as possible.

Serious workplace injuries can cause total and permanent disabilities, which can limit an individual’s ability to perform their job. In some cases, people are not able to return to the workplace, leaving them financially vulnerable.

Peter Dunphy, general manager of WorkCover’s Work Health and Safety Division, said employers must do everything they can to avoid injuries from occurring on-site.

He added that high-risk work such as excavations needs extensive planning, the implementation of the correct safety precautions and ongoing monitoring to prevent accidents.

“It is also important that the business owner or site manager collaborate with workers to fully assess any potential risk before excavation work starts,” Mr Dunphy commented.

“There will be times when additional measures are needed because the conditions assessed earlier may have changed due to unforeseen circumstances, such as water seepage.”

Worries over collapses

WorkCover noted that the most recent trench collapse is concerning, especially as a similar incident resulted in the death of an employee in December.

The trench was three metres deep and both sides became unstable due to wet weather. Mr Dunphy said that despite the rain, businesses must be prepared to ensure safety at all times.

“As work sites are affected by natural occurrences such as rain, these should always be considered when planning any work – even if the rain fell days before,” he explained.

“The sides of a trench must be adequately supported from the risk of collapse by shoring, benching or battering, or by any combination of these.”

WorkCover’s warning comes as the organisation meets with construction firms in NSW this week to discuss various on-site safety issues. Falls from height and protection against UV radiation are among the top priorities.

Inspectors will visit companies in and around Wentworth to identify potential hazards. WorkSafe Victoria is also taking part in the scheme and will talk to firms based in Mildura.

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