OSHA launches crackdown following spike in trench deaths 

Installation of metal supports to protect the walls of the trench. The lining protects the walls from collapsing and save the workers.

ConDig (19-July-22).  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a series of nationwide enforcement initiatives following a spike in trenching and excavation-related deaths. 

The agency reported that in the first six months of this year 22 workers had been killed carrying out trenching and excavation work – surpassing 15 deaths in all of 2021.

In light of the worrying uptick in deaths, OSHA said it would place additional emphasis on how agency officials evaluate penalties for trenching and excavation related incidents, including criminal referrals for federal or state prosecution to hold employers and others accountable when their actions or inactions kill workers or put their lives at risk.

OSHA compliance officers will also perform more than 1,000 trench inspections nationwide where they may stop by, and inspect, any excavation site during their daily duties. This is in keeping with its National Emphasis Program for excavations.

“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,” said Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. 

“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.”

A recent incident in central Texas highlighted the dangers of trenching and an impetus for OSHA’s action. On June 28, two workers, aged 20 and 39, suffered fatal injuries in Jarrell 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. When employers fail to install trench protection systems or properly inspect the trench, workers are exposed to serious hazards, including risk of being buried under thousands of pounds of soil. By some estimates, a cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, equal to that of a compact car.

“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.”