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Lack of focus on safety leads to worker deaths in trenches

When Georgia construction workers dig trenches, they are engaged in a very hazardous activity. A single cubic yard of soil could weigh more than a ton. Any collapse could easily crush a worker, and, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, trench accidents that killed workers increased by more than 100 percent between 2015 and 2016. The agency considers contractors that ignore safety procedures as the source of many deaths.

Management and supervisor bonuses among contractors on digging projects often rely on staying on schedule and on budget. The pressure sometimes prompts project managers to cut corners. The president of an insurance and risk management company blamed careless practices on the fact that it costs more to do work safely.

In some cases, negligent contractors face criminal prosecution. One company pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter after the death of a 22-year-old worker in a trench collapse, but the only penalty the contractor paid was a $10,000 fine. Another company currently facing criminal prosecution for the death of two workers in a trench has a poor safety record. OSHA cited the contractor with 18 violations and pursued fines of $1.5 million.

Most people who are injured on the job have the right to collect benefits through workers' compensation insurance maintained by the employer. The acceptance of benefits precludes the filing of a separate lawsuit against the employer. However, if it can be shown that the accident was caused by an employer's reckless disregard of workplace safety, then in some cases such an action could proceed. An attorney can provide insight into such a matter.

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