Trenches are a necessary but dangerous element for many types of construction. Occupational Safety and Health Administration numbers show that trench deaths more than doubled in 2016. Sadly, trench accidents are largely preventable if job site supervisors require strict adherence to safety regulations. A cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, so ignoring trench safety procedures can bring about quick and deadly consequences. For 2018, OSHA has designated improving trench safety a national priority.
OSHA and construction professionals agree that among the factors behind the increase in excavation-related deaths are time pressures and a general disregard for safety protocols that are intended to save lives. Putting profits ahead of worker safety along is the most nefarious reason but reportedly also contributing to the rise in trench fatalities are a lack of training and simple laziness prompting workers to cut corners on job sites. OSHA defines a trench as being deeper than it is wide with its width being no more than 15 feet.
Cave-ins and trench collapses are the single most dangerous risk to trench workers, but falls and interactions with equipment are also extremely dangerous. Any trench deeper than 4 feet requires a ladder within 25 feet of every worker, and trenches deeper than 5 feet require protections against collapse. Any trench deeper than 20 feet requires a protective system designed by a professional engineer. The most widely used trench protections are sloping and stepping the gradient. Other measures are shoring the walls and shielding workers with trench boxes.
Companies disregarding safety regulations put employees at risk and can be subjected to heavy fines from OSHA and other regulatory agencies. Workplace safety should always be paramount for construction supervisors, and safety costs should be factored into bid prices. Anyone injured on a job site may be able to learn about his or her rights by consulting a qualified workers compensation lawyer.