excavating

OSHA Tightening Trenching Standards Amidst Fatality Increases in 2022

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By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE

The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announces enhanced enforcement amidst a dramatic increase in U.S. trench-related fatalities during 2022.

During the first half of 2022, according to OSHA, more workers have died in trenching and excavation work than during all of 2021.

A total of 22 workers lost their lives in trenching and excavation work from January through June of this year, surpassing a total of 15 deaths during all 12 months of last year.

In keeping with its National Emphasis Program for excavations, OSHA compliance officers will perform more than 1,000 trench inspections on jobsites across the country before 2022 has concluded, according to Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker.

“OSHA is calling on all employers engaged in trenching and excavation activities to act immediately to ensure that required protections are fully in place every single time their employees step down into or work near a trench,” Parker said. “In a matter of seconds, workers can be crushed and buried under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in an unsafe trench. The alarming increase in the number of workers needlessly dying and suffering serious injuries in trenching accidents must be stopped.”

Parker cited a recent double tragedy in Central Texas in late June wherein two workers aged 20 and 39 were killed when the unprotected trench more than 20 feet deep collapsed upon them as they worked. Trench shields, which could have saved their lives, Parker said, sat unused beside the excavation site.

“By some estimates, one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds,” he said, “which is equal to the weight of a compact car.”

A Blue Springs, MO contractor is facing nearly $800,000 in OSHA fines for repeated trenching and other safety violations. OSHA’s trenching standards require protective systems on trenches deeper than five feet. Soil and other materials must be kept at least two feet from the edge of a trench.

In addition to increased site inspections, OSHA is offering employers its On-Site Consultation Program, a free and confidential resource to assist them in developing strategic approaches for addressing trench-related illnesses and injuries in workplaces.

For more information, call 800-321-OSHA or go to https://www.osha.gov/Consultation.

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