Photo: Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health

‘Alarming’ rise in trench worker deaths prompts hazard alert

February 20, 2018

Lexington, KY — In response to an uptick in trench-related deaths among construction workers, the Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program has released a hazard alert warning of the dangers of trench work.

OSHA data shows 23 construction workers were killed in trench collapses in 2016, exceeding the combined total from 2014 and 2015. In Kentucky, three trench-collapse deaths occurred from June 2015 to December 2017, Kentucky FACE reports.

Calling the rise in fatalities “alarming,” the alert lists several tips for protecting construction workers who perform trench work:

  • Have a competent person inspect trenches before each shift and after every rainstorm or other hazard-increasing occurrence.
  • Institute protective measures such as benching, shoring, sloping and shielding for all trenches between 5 feet and 20 feet deep. For trenches 20 feet and deeper, require a registered professional engineer to design these systems.
  • Keep excavated soil, also known as spoils, and other materials at least 2 feet from trench edges.
  • Train employees on how to spot signs of imminent trench collapse, including tension cracks, bulging and toppling.
  • Provide a safe method to exit trenches within 25 feet of workers.

The alert points out that 1 cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car.