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Is your construction site at risk of a trench collapse?

According to estimates made by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, two workers are killed each month in trench collapses across the nation. While in some cases trench collapses are because of employer negligence, in others they are the result of improper safety training.

Whatever the cause though, these construction accidents can be avoided, especially if the right safety precautions are taken and federal regulations are followed. It's something we hope to highlight in this week's post so that our readers can answer the question: is your construction site at risk of a trench collapse?

A trench may be dug for any number of reasons and may be as shallow as a couple of feet to deep excavations going more than 20 feet into the ground. In deeper trenches, those deeper than five feet, certain safety precautions should be taken to avoid any accidental injury or death of a worker.

Because one cubic yard of dirt can weigh as much as a car, OSHA has implemented strict safety guidelines for trenches dug here in the United States. Any trench deeper than five feet has to have protective systems in place to prevent a trench collapse. Anything deeper than 20 feet, these systems must be designed by a professional engineer and/or based on prepared data given to a construction site by a professional engineer.

Trenches that are excavated in areas completely made up of stable rock do not require these protective systems regardless of depth.

On top of these protective systems, trenches should also be checked regularly by someone who is able to identify potential hazards and recognize when a site is no longer safe for workers. Some general guidelines for trench safety are:

  • Inspect trenches after rainstorms or following other water intrusions
  • Keep heavy equipment or excavated material away from trench edges
  • Inspect the trench for weak spots prior to sending in workers
  • Ensure workers wear high visibility clothing and are accounted for prior to excavation
  • Test for atmospheric hazards such as toxic gases before sending workers into trench

It's important to point out that even though OSHA does issue citations to companies who fail to follow federal safety guidelines, safety hazards can often go unnoticed if incidences are not reported. And as you can imagine, if a safety hazard goes uncorrected, it could lead to a serious accident involving injuries or even deaths.

Source: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "Trenching and Excavation Safety Fact Sheet," Accessed Aug. 27, 2014

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