New York workers routinely perform excavating work and other work in trenches. When working in a trench, there is a significant risk of trench collapse if proper precautions are not taken. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict regulations in place designed to ensure trench collapses do not occur and construction employees do not die in cave-ins.
An experienced workers' compensation attorney knows too many employers don't follow OSHA rules on trench safety. Safety BLR reported one contractor recently fined for a failure to comply with trench regulations. The same contractor has had multiple prior violations for trench safety issues but continues to break the rules. Employers and employees must know and abide by OSHA regulations to prevent a tragic accident.
Preventing Construction Worker Death Due to Trench Collapse
One cubic yard of soil weighs as much as a small car. A cubic yard of soil is the equivalent of 3,000 pounds coming down on a person so it should come as no surprise trench collapses are often fatal. Each month in the United States, two workers die because of a trench cave-in.
OSHA aims to prevent these deaths by mandating trench protection systems for virtually all trenches. If a trench is less than five feet deep, a "competent person" can conduct an evaluation to determine if a protection system must be used. If a trench is more than five feet deep, a protection system must always be used. If the trench is 20 feet or more in depth, the system must be designed in consultation with a registered professional engineer. The engineer can provide data for the design of the protective system or can consult on the design of the system.
Four primary types of trench protection systems are accepted by OSHA, including benching, sloping, shoring, and shielding. Benching involves the creation of different levels or steps within the trench and sloping involves sloping the sides of the trench away from the excavated area. Both shoring and shielding involve using materials to provide support and stability and prevent a cave in. OSHA refers to a trench without one of these protective systems as an "early grave."
OSHA also has other suggestions for trench safety including:
- Avoiding bringing heavy equipment too close to the edge of a trench.
- Identifying all potential risk factors that could impact the stability of the trench.
- Ensure all materials, including excavated soil, remain two feet or more from a trench.
- Identify the site of all underground utilities before beginning to dig a trench.
- Test for low oxygen, toxic gas, dangerous fumes, and other hazards in the atmosphere once the trench being dug is four feet or greater.
- Ensure all trenches are inspected by a "competent person" when each shift begins. The protective system in place should also be inspected. If any incident occurs that could alter trench conditions, re-inspect.
- Avoid performing work in a trench when water has intruded, including after a rain.
- Avoid working under raised or suspended materials and loads.
By following these safety precautions, trench collapses and fatalities should be prevented.