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Preventing Trench Collapse Accidents

March 16, 2021By Niko Pothitakis

After a sudden surge of trench collapse fatalities, the Occupational Safety & Health Association (OSHA) launched a new program dedicated to preventing trench accidents. By taking the proper steps to create a safer work environment, OSHA and others hope to reduce the number of trench accidents and subsequent deaths.

An Unexpected Rise in Trench Accident Deaths

Experts at OSHA noted a sudden increase in trench accident fatalities, which had nearly doubled within a short period of time. They believe that the reason for this peak was the increase in work by inexperienced workers following the 2008 recession. This inadequate work made trenches more prone to causing construction accidents, creating an unsafe environment for construction workers on job sites across the country.

When trenches are formed, atmospheric pressure is applied to the sides of the trench, working toward filling the empty hole. The fact is that one cubic yard of solid dirt can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, which is the weight of a single car. In the event of a trench collapse of as little as four or five feet in depth, this could involve up to 20,000 lbs of pressure, which is enough pressure to prevent a worker from breathing if trapped underneath.

Making Trenches Safer for Workers

OSHA developed its program to help improve safety for construction workers by reducing the risk of trench collapse accidents. The program helps ensure that workers receive proper training and adhere to the rules in place while avoiding entering any unprotected trench.

In addition to workers, supervisors, safety officers, and foremen are also responsible for maintaining a consistently safe work environment involving trenches and other potential hazards. A failure to maintain a safe environment when avoidable could result in serious injuries and workers’ compensation claims against liable parties.

While it’s been an industry standard to protect trenches with shoring, shielding, and sloping if they are deeper than five feet, OSHA requires qualified personnel to decide when these measures are required. This means that some may find that these measures are required at depths of less than five feet, which would further improve safety and prevent trench collapses.

In addition to collapses, workers may also be injured when falling into trenches, and underground gases may leak into trenches and remove oxygen. These risks make it necessary for employers to implement additional safety measures wherever needed.