Trenching has been one of the most dangerous jobs in construction for a long time. It’s no surprise, given that a single cubic yard of dirt can weight up to 3,000 pounds. And according to OSHA, there were more trenching deaths in 2016 than in 2014 and 2015 combined.
Now the dangers of trenching are back in the news. In a recent report, the Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program called the rise in trenching deaths “alarming.”
Increased Fines, Penalties
One way OSHA is trying to combat trenching deaths is through more inspections and bigger fines.
In November, OSHA slapped a contractor in Boise, ID with a fine of $106,000. The agency found employees working in a 7-foot trench with no cave-in protection.
In a case in October 2016 where two workers in Massachusetts died in a trench collapse, the agency hit the contractor with a fine of $1.5 million.
And for the first time, an employer is Washington is facing felony manslaughter charges after the death of an employee in a trench collapse.
Prosecutors filed second-degree manslaughter charges against Alki Construction owner Phillip Numrich. Employee Hardold Felton died in a trench collapse on a job site in West Seattle. Felton had been working in a 7-foot trench with no system in place to prevent the sides from caving in.
According to Department of Labor & Industries director Joel Sacks, the company “ignored” safety risks and requirements associated with trenching. “The felony charges show that employers can be held criminally accountable when the tragedy of a preventable workplace death or injury occurs.”
How To Stay Safe
The OSHA report Trenching and Excavation Safety provides a comprehensive rundown of factors contractors should consider before breaking ground on a project. The goal: to minimize the need for trenching at all.
But for cases when trenching can’t be avoided, OSHA lists extensive recommendations for keeping workers safe. They include:
- Don’t wait until after a project starts to correct mistakes in shoring or sloping
- Slope and bench the sides of an excavation
- Place a shield between the sides of the excavation and the work area
- Provide ladders, steps, ramps or other means of safe entry and exit from all excavations
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