Working in trenches and excavations has always been dangerous, but today it is riskier than ever.
According to a recent report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers killed in trench-related accidents nearly doubled in 2016 over the average of the previous five years. Part of that undoubtedly has to do with the increased number of infrastructure improvement projects currently underway.
More Construction Projects
The Great Recession of 2008-2009 put a slowdown on a lot of public improvement projects. With US banking in disarray and the economy sputtering, governments at every level were reluctant to issue bonds to fund infrastructure projects like bridge repair, water and sewer line replacement, and highway and bridge upgrades.
But now that the economy has bounced back and then some, it seems like public works projects are making up for lost time. It seemed like motorists are delayed by construction projects at practically every turn this summer.
Because there have been so many more big public construction projects in recent years, it’s just math that more workers would be injured or killed in accidents. Still, the rise in trench-related accidents has caught the attention of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And now the federal safety watchdog is taking aim at reducing the amount of trench-related deaths.
Reducing trenching and excavation hazards has been named OSHA’s Priority Goal. That means resources and attention will be devoted to moving the needle to reduce trench deaths. A public awareness campaign also has been launched to promote ways to reduce the risk of workplace cave-ins.
OSHA identified three ways to keep cave-in accidents from happening:
- Slop or bench trench walls
- Shore trench walls with supports
- Shielf trench walls with trench boxes
These safety measures can strengthen trench walls and help protect workers.
Common Trench Hazards
Project managers also need to ensure that workers can enter and exit trenches safely, as well as keeping materials away from the edges of a trench — especially heavy equipment that could fall in and injure or kill a worker inside.
Another common hazard when working with trenches is standing water. When rainwater or runoff pools in the bottom of a trench, it can weaken the walls. It also creates a potential electrocution hazard.
Atmospheric hazards like lightning or flash floors also put trench workers at risk.
Some predict the number of infrastructure improvements will continue to rise with the economy. By focusing on trench safety, OSHA hopes to reverse the number of trench fatalities and help keep workers safe.