Why trenching and excavation is so dangerous for workers – II

Jun 22 2016

Last week, our blog began discussing how a considerable amount of subterranean construction work involves trenching and excavation, meaning a process by which cuts are made below ground with the depth being greater than the width and the width measuring no more than 15 feet.

We also discussed how, contrary to popular belief, trenches are actually one of the most dangerous locations at worksites given the risk of collapses, which statistics show claim the lives of two people every month here in the U.S.

In today’s post, the second in a series, we’ll start examining some of the trenching and excavation requirements devised by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration employers in order to keep workers safe from cave-ins.

Trench depth and safety measures

When it comes to trench depth, OSHA standards dictate that any trench measuring five feet deep or greater must be equipped with a protective system. The only exception to this rule is if the trench is dug completely into solid rock.

If the trench measures less than five feet deep, however, the determination as to whether a protective system is needed can be made by a competent person.

OSHA essentially defines a competent person as being:

  • One who is able to identify predictable and existing work hazards, and is knowledgeable of both soil types and protective systems; and  
  • One who is authorized to take the necessary remedial measures to eliminate these work hazards

If the trench measures 20 feet deep or greater, a protective system designed by a professional engineer, or made in accordance with tabulated data prepared and/or approved by a professional engineer is required.

Entrances and Exits

OSHA standards dictate that any trench measuring four feet deep or greater must be equipped with safe entrances and exits for workers, such as steps, ramps, ladders or other devices. Furthermore, these safe entrances and exits must be situated within 25 feet of all workers.

It should be noted that OSHA standards also mandate that trenches must be inspected on a daily basis and, when conditions change, a competent person must conduct an inspection before any worker entry to ensure there are no excavation hazards present.

We’ll continue this discussion in a future post, exploring the different types of protective systems.

Construction workers who have suffered debilitating injuries while on-the-job have rights and options. To ensure that they take advantage of both, it’s imperative for them to consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.