Steep rise in trenching deaths spurs enhanced enforcement, outreach from OSHA
Washington — An “alarming rise” in trench-related worker deaths has prompted OSHA to launch “enhanced enforcement initiatives” and outreach efforts to protect workers from known hazards.
Through the first half of this year, the agency has recorded 22 trenching deaths – already a 47% increase from the 15 recorded in all of 2021.
“Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards,” agency administrator Doug Parker said in a press release. “There simply is no excuse for ignoring safety requirements to prevent trench collapses and cave-ins, and leaving families, friends and co-workers to grieve when the solutions are so well-understood.”
In an effort to stem the deadly trend, OSHA enforcement staff “will consider every available tool at the agency’s disposal,” including issuing referrals for federal or state criminal prosecution.
As part of OSHA’s National Emphasis Program on trenching and excavation safety, agency personnel are expected to take part in 1,000 trench inspections around the country.
Employers are required to use a “knowledgeable person” to inspect trenching and excavation operations, as well as provide protective systems for trenches 5 feet or deeper. Soil or other material must be kept at least 2 feet away from the edge of a trench. Trenches also must be free of standing water and atmospheric hazards as well as have a safe entrance and exit before work begins.
OSHA has a number of resources to help employers, including its free and confidential On-Site Consultation Program for small and medium-sized employers. The agency also has information on trenching and excavation safety, including a video.
Workers can call (800) 321-OSHA (6742) if their employer is requiring them to work in or near trenches that are 5 feet or deeper and aren’t sloped, shored or shielded. They also can contact their local OSHA or State Plan office.
“OSHA stands ready to assist any employer who needs help to comply with our trenching and excavation requirements,” Parker said. “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.”
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