Trench collapse deaths are easily preventable. I’ll say it again: trench collapse deaths are easily preventable. So if they’re preventable, how do they continue to happen every year? Ignorance to safety rules, lack of supervision, pressures of time and money, and sometimes, outright laziness are all factors in trench related deaths and injuries. I’ve been on too many jobsites in my relatively young construction career that have extremely poor procedures for working in trenches and I’ve gotten every excuse in the book. The vast majority don’t even understand the basic requirements. At 4 feet deep, you need to provide a means of egress, at 5 feet deep you need proper protective systems, and keep soil and other materials 2 feet away from the edge of the trench. Those are the basics, everyone should know them.
Despite every construction company’s claim that safety comes first, trench collapse deaths are still happening and, this year, they’re happening way more often. OSHA just released a graphic showing the amount of trench injuries and deaths in each of the past 5 years and 2016 has more deaths than 2014 and 2015 COMBINED (23 in 2016 vs 11 each in 2015 and 2014). Trench collapses happen fast and often have devastating results, as one cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds.
"Trench deaths have more than doubled nationwide since last year - an alarming and unacceptable trend that must be halted," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in a press release. "There is no excuse. These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know."
Everyone is responsible for adhering to trench safety standards, as well. Just this year, both a foreman and a general contractor were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after a laborer was killed by a trench collapse in New York. Besides being criminally convicted, companies can also face huge fines for negligence, like a recent $274,359 fine an Ohio company was just given after an employee was crushed to death by a trench collapse in June of 2016. According to OSHA, the company failed to provide trench cave-in protection, failed to protect workers form excavated material failing or rolling into a trench or failing from inside the trench walls, and failed to train workers in recognizing trench hazards.
If you’d like to read more about OSHA’s trenching safety standards, you can do so by clicking here.