Tragically, in the first six months of 2022, twenty-two trench-related fatalities occurred, surpassing the 15 fatalities in all of 2021. These workers fell victim to the deadly hazards present in trenching and excavation work. Prompting the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch enhanced enforcement initiatives to protect workers from known industry hazards.
With the hope of saving lives, OSHA enforcement staff is considering every available tool at the agency’s disposal in order to stress the dangers of disregarding federal workplace safety requirements for trenching and excavation work. This will include placing additional emphasis on penalties for trenching and excavation-related incidents. In a worst-case scenario, this may include federal or state prosecution. Therefore holding employers and others accountable when their actions or inactions kill workers or put their lives at risk.
Because of the continuing incidence of trench collapses and loss of life, the agency has determined that these worksites continue to warrant an increased enforcement presence. Employees exposed to potential cave-ins must be protected before the excavation face is in imminent danger of collapse. Furthermore, OSHA believes that there is a potential for collapse in virtually all excavations. OSHA compliance officers will perform more than 1,000 trench inspections nationwide where they may stop by, and inspect, any excavation site during their daily duties.
OSHA Training and Compliance Saves Lives
Trenching and excavation work exposes workers to extremely dangerous hazards. OSHA believes that the rate of deaths and serious injuries resulting from trenching and excavation incidents (mostly collapses) can be significantly reduced if OSHA concentrates resources to effectively engage in trenching and excavation operations through both enforcement and compliance assistance activities.
“Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Health and Safety Doug Parker. “There simply is no excuse for ignoring safety requirements to prevent trench collapses and cave-ins, and leaving families, friends, and co-workers to grieve when the solutions are so well-understood.”
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is calling on all employers engaged in trenching and excavation activities to act immediately to ensure that required protections are fully in place every single time their employees step down into or work near a trench,” Parker added. “In a matter of seconds, workers can be crushed and buried under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in an unsafe trench. The alarming increase in the number of workers needlessly dying and suffering serious injuries in trenching incidents must be stopped.”
Trench Shields Unused in Fatal Accident
A recent incident in Texas highlights the dangers of trenching and the importance of following safety standards. On June 28, 2022, two workers suffered fatal injuries when the unprotected trench more than 20 feet deep collapsed upon them as they worked. Trench shields, which could have saved their lives, sat unused beside the excavation.
Trenching and excavation operations require protective systems and inspections before workers can enter. Workers are exposed to serious hazards when trench protection systems are not installed. Furthermore, failing to properly inspect the trench, puts everyone at high risk for injury. These hazards include the risk of being buried under thousands of pounds of soil. Following safety requirements helps protect workers from tragic injuries and possibly death.
Excavation and Trenching Safety Training Includes:
- Overview of OSHA Standard on Trenching and Excavation
- Hazards of trenching and excavation
- Competent Person Roles and Duties
- Safety Precautions
- Access & Egress
- Excavated Materials (Spoil)
- Confined Spaces
- Mobile Equipment
- Surface Crossing
Vital trenching standards require protective systems on all trenches 5 feet deep. In addition, soil and other materials must be kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Furthermore, trenches must be inspected by a knowledgeable person. Equally important, they must be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards. As well as have a safe means of entering and exiting prior to allowing a worker to enter. Without proper training keeping workers safe is impossible but carefully following OSHA regulations gives everyone the best chance at a safe work environment.
“OSHA stands ready to assist any employer who needs help to comply with our trenching and excavation requirements,” Parker added. “We will conduct outreach programs, including safety summits, in all of our 10 regions to help ensure any employer who wants assistance gets it. The stakes are too important.”