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Protecting Workers In Trenches

In response to more than 200 fatalities and hundreds of serious injuries involving unprotected trenches since 2003, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued new guidance material to protect workers in trenches.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released three new guidance products to educate workers and employers about the hazards workers face in trenching operations. Unprotected trenches are among the deadliest hazards in the construction industry, and the loss of life is devastating. Since 2003, more than 200 workers have died in trench cave-ins, and hundreds more have been seriously injured.

“No worker's life should end in a trench. Cave-ins during excavations are some of the most common and grisliest causes of worker fatalities in construction, yet they are entirely preventable,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “I am deeply troubled by the continued violations of OSHA's trenching standards, many of which bring tragic results. These new educational materials provide clear guidance on the necessary steps that employers must take to protect workers in trenches.” The new information products, which are available on OSHA's Publications page, include:

“Trenching and Excavation” fact sheet—an overview of the hazards that can occur while performing trenching operations and the safety measures required to protect workers

“Working Safely in Trenches” QuickCard—an easy-to-use graphic guide to trenching hazards and safety measures with graphics

“Do Not Enter an Unprotected Trench!” poster—a resource for construction workplaces informing workers what steps must be taken to ensure trench safety, along with the warning, "An Unprotected Trench is an Early Grave."

Subjects covered in the three documents include proper shoring and sloping; evaluations by competent persons, means of access/egress, atmospheric hazard testing and protective systems. The guidance also describes protective measures that are required under OSHA’s excavation standards (29 CFR 1926.650 , 29 CFR 1926.651 , and 29 CFR 1926.652). Spanish-language versions of the documents are also available.

Due to the severity of trenching hazards, OSHA conducts a Special Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavations (Directive CPL 02-00-069 [CPL 2.69]), which sets procedures for enforcement activities wherever trenching and excavation worksites are observed. When OSHA’s compliance officers see a trench, they will inspect it. On two separate occasions in the past year, this Special Emphasis Program allowed OSHA compliance officers to remove workers from unsupported trenches minutes before they collapsed—likely preventing possible injury and loss of life.

[Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration]


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