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Employer investigated in construction worker's death in trench

North Carolina is one of the dozen states whose cave-in related fatalities are lower than the national average. Nationally the number of workers hurt on the job in the excavation industry is high. Therefore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration usually compels companies in this profession to undergo special training to ensure worker safety.

The training may have contributed to the lack of fatalities since 2009, but a workplace accident in a trench in North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus ended that streak as one construction worker died.

The construction employee was working for a contracting company fitting a water line, according to a police lieutenant. Around three feet of dirt fell onto him as he was working in a four foot trench. Since part of the trench collapsed, trapping him in, an investigation is underway to determine whether the worker's employer had provided equipment to prevent cave-ins. The investigation could take around four months.

The victim's company was fined previously by OSHA for safety violations including not providing a ramp in the trench for workers to exit it safely and not providing a trench box. Since the dirt hits the side of the box and doesn't trap a worker, a trench box protects workers from cave-ins. These violations did not result in any fatalities.

As the investigation continues, employers are reminded of their duty to create a safe working environment for their workers, especially when the work is extremely dangerous. Employees injured on the job have the right to file a workers' compensation claim to recover compensation for their injuries and any time they had to take off from work.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal, "State investigates fatal trench collapse on N.C. State campus," Thomas McDonald, Nov. 21, 2012

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