While overall workplace injuries are continuing a downward trend, 2016 has seen an unsettling rise in trench collapse injuries and deaths.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 23 workers have been killed and another 12 injured in trench collapses this year. In 2015 and 2014, 12 workers were killed in similar fashion during each of those years.
“Trench deaths have more than doubled nationwide since last year – an alarming and unacceptable trend that must be halted,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels in a news release. “There is no excuse. These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know.”
Just one cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, which means trench collapses are difficult to survive.
Trenches that are 5 feet deep or more require a protective system, which includes benching, sloping, shoring or shielding. Other general rules include:
- Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
- Identify other sources that might affect trench stability.
- Keep excavated soil (spoils) and other materials at least 2 feet from trench edges.
- Know where underground utilities are located before digging.
- Test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases when > 4 feet deep.
- Inspect trenches at the start of each shift.
- Inspect trenches following a rainstorm or other water intrusion.
- Do not work under suspended or raised loads and materials.
- Inspect trenches after any occurrence that could have changed conditions in the trench.
- Ensure that personnel wear high visibility or other suitable clothing when exposed to vehicular traffic.
OSHA Standards 29 CFR 1926.651 and 1926.652 spell out more rules that must be followed, including competent person requirements.
Make sure you do your part to eliminate trenching and excavation injuries in 2017. Having trained supervisors and workers who can react quickly to a trenching collapse incident can help prevent injuries and deaths.