Buried alive: the deadly effects of a trench cave-in

Construction workers in Texas face some dangers that are unique to their industry. According to the Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, one of these hazards that consistently causes on-the-job fatalities, trench collapse, is on the rise.

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration has strict standards for trenches that contractors should use to keep workers safe. In particular, there are a variety of systems that may be used to prevent cave-ins if the depth of a trench is more than five feet. A recent San Antonio accident that is currently under investigation seems to indicate that this OSHA regulation was not followed. In a trench eight feet deep, a worker was trapped by clay soil.

D2000Safety.com explains that when the walls of a trench cave in, the force of the collapse can be just as deadly as the actual weight of the soil. The average cubic yard of dirt weighs roughly 2,500 pounds, and when it falls from a height of six feet, it hits a worker moving at about 14 mph. This often leads to common crush injuries such as broken bones and ligaments, punctured organs and internal bleeding.

If the worker survives long enough to be rescued, though, the effects of the accident may still cause death. The weight of the dirt squeezes the body so tightly, circulation is impossible, and tissues begin to die because of the resulting lack of oxygen. They release chemicals such as potassium as they are destroyed, but because there is no circulation, the body is not poisoned. Once the blood begins to move through the system again, though, organ failure is imminent. 

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