Deep down in the slew of mud, clay, silt and water, a worker installs new pipe for drainage. He's 6 feet deep, working with 5 other workers and feels confident that his company has taken safety as priority number one. He looks around and does a quick safety spot check. Spoil pile 2 feet away from the edge? Plus proper shoring in place and a ladder within 25 feet of us? As our worker goes on with his day he is ever reminded of the dangers of working within the confines of an excavation. You see our worker Mike was in an accident 5 years ago that he will never forget. Mike was buried alive in an excavation. He is fortunate enough to continue to work and live life with his family and friend. So many other people were far too unfortunate.
The earth and soil can never be underestimated. It has a power that many upon initially looking at it do not think anything can happen. That is the type of attitude that has time and time again killed so many. OSHA regulates that 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 that everyone should know.
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 versus 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. There is no excuse. These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know."
- Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Everyone is responsible for adhering to trench safety standards. 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 hefty $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 from excavated material falling or rolling into a trench or falling from inside the trench walls, and failed to train workers in recognizing trench hazards.
Often times, companies prep excavations with bare bone hazard abatement, but they never think about what else may be needed. Confined space and hot work permits may need to be issued. Fall protection and ladder safety training may need to be held. Plus JHA's (Job Hazard Analysis) which help outline the hazards should absolutely be done before any work is to commence. Workers safety should never be overlooked no matter how small the job may be. In excavations this should always ring true!