OSHA has released a public service announcement, recorded by Secretary of Labor, Alex Acosta, placing a spotlight on the increase in trench-related worker deaths.
According to the agency, 23 construction workers were killed in trench collapses in 2016, exceeding the combined total from 2014 and 2015.
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 (4.5 meters).
Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment. Trench collapses cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year.
OSHA requires safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps, or other safe means of exit for employees working in trench excavations 4 feet (1.22 meters) or deeper. These devices must be located within 25 feet (7.6 meters) of all workers.
In the PSA, available in English and Spanish, Acosta shares the following trenching safety tips:
- Ensure workers in the trench have a safe way to enter and exit;
- Provide cave-in protection;
- Keep materials clear from the edge of the trench;
- Look for standing water or atmospheric hazards; and
- Never enter a trench before it has been properly inspected.
The following are general trenching and excavation rules:
- Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges;
- Keep surcharge loads at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) from trench edges;
- Know where underground utilities are located;
- Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases;
- Inspect trenches at the start of each shift;
- Inspect trenches following a rainstorm; and
- Do not work under raised loads.