Trenching and excavations are not a new concept as it pertains to the construction industry. In fact, much of the way these operations have been conducted in the past few decades is still the same manner in which trenching and excavations are done today. With that in mind, it would seem that injuries and fatalities in a process that hasn’t changed much would be very low across the board. This isn’t the case as stated by OSHA. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, excavation and trench-related fatalities in 2016 were almost double the average of the previous five years.
The trenching and excavations construction industry should be asking why. Could it be the pace of the industry is predicting short cuts as it pertains to proper control measures? Is there a lack of training due to higher turnover rates of employees? Perhaps there is increased competition to bid jobs more competitively, forcing employers to skip out on control measures to save costs. Maybe it’s a cultural gap between the age of the workforce in the past decades and those today. All possibilities should be considered.
No matter what is causing fatality rates to have such a dramatic increase, you can bet OSHA has it on top of its radar! According to OSHA.gov, “OSHA has made reducing trenching and excavation hazards the agency's priority goal. Trench collapses, or cave-ins, pose the greatest risk to workers' lives. To prevent cave-ins:
- SLOPE or bench trench walls
- SHORE trench walls with supports, or
- SHIELD trench walls with trench boxes
Employers should also ensure there is a safe way to enter and exit the trench. Keep materials away from the edge of the trench. Look for standing water or atmospheric hazards. Never enter a trench unless it has been properly inspected.
29 CFR 1926.650, 29 CFR 1926.651, and 29 CFR 1926.652 are applicable OSHA standards.”
OSHA has had a National Emphasis Program for Trenching and Excavations since 1985, which gives OSHA compliance officers grounds to stop at any trenching site and conduct an inspection for enforcement purposes. Although this emphasis program has been around for nearly 35 years, OSHA now has the stance, due to fatality rates increasing, to make this emphasis program a top priority!
The bottom line is no one who works in the trenching and excavation industry goes to work thinking this could be his/her last day on the job and never will return home again, yet this still happens way too often! The industry must come together to examine what needs to be done and come to the table to work with OSHA to accomplish collective goals to reduce trenching and excavation injuries and fatalities. More detailed information can be found by following the links below.
About the Author
John Lawhorn, Property & Manufacturing Safety Specialist