OSHA Digs Trenching and Excavation Safety

November 26, 2018 Ian Cohen

Since October, OSHA has stepped up their efforts to bring awareness to the risks of excavation and trenching work to reduce serious injuries and fatalities, which have been on the rise. This renewed emphasis is especially important to utilities and construction companies where excavation and trench work are routine. OSHA has been working with employers across the country to warn them of the dangers and provide educational support to better ensure employees are safe on the job. 

According to OSHA, excavation and trench-related fatalities in 2016 were nearly double the average of the previous five years.

OSHA has noted that cave-ins pose the greatest risk to employees since these are more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling dirt from backhoes and other excavation equipment, hazardous atmospheres that pose an immediate danger to health and life, and injuries involving mobile equipment. Trench collapses cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year. 

As part of this awareness campaign, OSHA has also issued other resources and materials, including an updated OSHA QuickCard and video that highlight the dangers of excavation and trench work. One of the keys to ensuring that your employees are working safely as they dig and/or work in trenches is to understand how to classify soils. To help employers, OSHA has produced an 11-minute video that shows how to classify soils simply by using your hands. You can watch the video here

Trenching and Excavation Safety Tips

Employers can avoid and minimize the risk of injuries and fatalities to their workers by taking these proactive measures: 

  • Train employees about the dangers of trenching and excavation work and how to identify potential dangers
  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges
  • Identify other sources that might affect trench stability
  • Keep excavated soil (spoils) and other materials at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) from trench edges.
  • Test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases when > 4 feet deep
  • Inspect trenches at the start of each shift
  • Inspect trenches following a rainstorm, other water intrusion events, or after any other situation that could have changed conditions in the trench.
  • Do not let employees work under suspended or raised loads and materials.
  • Ensure that personnel wear high visibility or other suitable clothing

Learn More 

At Cority, we have developed a variety of solutions that are designed to help safety professionals keep employees safe while on the job. Our inspections module can be used to help safety and non-safety professionals assess the stability of trenching and excavation work that is being done. Cority’s Incident Management solution enables users to quickly record near-misses, injuries, and much more so that your safety team can identify root causes and put corrective and preventive actions in place to prevent a similar event from occurring again. 

About the Author

Ian Cohen

Ian Cohen, MS is the Product Marketing Manager responsible for Cority's Environmental and Safety initiatives. Before taking this role, Ian was Cority's Environmental Product Manager, where he was responsible for developing Cority's Environmental Compliance and Data Management Suite. Prior to working with Cority, Ian was an environmental specialist at Florida Power & Light Company, a NextEra Energy, Inc., company, where he led the development, implementation, and management of various environmental management systems and programs. Ian is well versed in the development of enterprise environmental management information systems and is a subject matter expert in corporate sustainability, including program development, annual reporting and stakeholder communications. Ian earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science in Environmental Science, both from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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