Reducing trenching and excavation hazards has been named an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Agency Priority Goal for 2018. Agency officials said their aim is to increase awareness of trenching hazards in construction, educate employers and workers on safe cave-in prevention solutions, and decrease the number of trench collapses.
In a U.S. Department of Labor action plan entitled “Worker Safety: Reduce Trenching and Excavation Hazards,” OSHA said it aims to increase the trenching and excavation hazards abated by 10% from FY2017 to September 30, 2019, through inspections and compliance assistance at workplaces covered by OSHA. The agency is engaging in various forms of outreach, including efforts to work with industry associations and public utilities to create a public-private effort to reduce these injuries and fatalities.
Citing figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OSHA reported that excavation and trench-related fatalities in 2016 were nearly double the average of the previous five years. OSHA defines an excavation as any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet.
According to OSHA, the biggest hazard construction workers face when entering trenches and excavations is cave-ins, as a cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car. OSHA generally requires that employers protect workers from cave-ins by sloping and benching the sides of the excavation, supporting the sides of the excavation, or placing a shield between the side of the excavation and the work area.
OSHA is encouraging contractors to participate in the National Utility Contractors Association’s 2018 Trench Safety Stand-Down on June 18-23, 2018. The safety stand-down provides employers with an opportunity to talk directly to employees about procedures for working in excavations and trenches.