US Department of Labor, state agencies, industry leaders launch campaign to educate, alert Midwest employers, workers of deadly excavation hazards
CHICAGO ‒ Thirty-nine people died doing trench or excavation work in the U.S. in 2022 – four in Illinois and two others in Ohio. In fact, the number of worker fatalities more than doubled since 2021, continuing a troubling trend cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that found 166 workers died in trench cave-ins from 2011-2018, an average of 21 each year.
To address injuries and fatalities in the industry, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is launching an outreach campaign in its Midwest region today to work directly with employers, workers, state agencies and industry associations to reduce and prevent serious injuries and fatalities suffered by workers in one of the nation’s most hazardous industries.
“A trench collapse can bury workers under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in seconds, making escape and survival often impossible,” explained OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan in Chicago. “With proper training and use of required safety procedures, incidents like these can be prevented. OSHA and industry employers are working hard to raise awareness of hazards and protective measures and educate employers on how they must protect workers.”
The new campaign is a collaboration between OSHA and on-site consultation projects across OSHA Region 5 including: Illinois On-site Consultation Program, Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration and INSafe: Safety and Health Consultation; Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Michigan Consultative Services; Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Minnesota Workplace Safety Consultation Program; Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation On-Site Consultation Program; Wisconsin On-Site Consultation Program, as well as trenching and excavation industry employers and other stakeholders such as the National Utility Contractors Association, Wisconsin Utility Contractors Association
“By launching this trench and excavation safety campaign as the spring construction season gets into full swing, OSHA and its partners are determined to make sure industry workers finish their daily shifts safely,” Donovan added.
In 2022, OSHA conducted 311 trenching and excavation inspections at sites in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. Six of the inspections followed incidents in which workers suffered fatalities after falling into a trench, being pinned between equipment, trapped by a cave-in or asphyxiated by naturally occurring, hazardous gases in the trench.
Industry employers and workers should remember the following essential trench safety standards:
- Protective systems must be in place for trenches 5-feet deep or deeper. These systems include benching, sloping, shoring and shielding.
- A registered professional engineer must approve trenches of 20-feet deep or deeper.
- A competent person must inspect trenches daily – and as conditions change – before anyone enters a trench. The competent person must be able to identify existing and predictable hazards, soil types and protective systems, and have authority to take prompt corrective action to eliminate those hazards.
- Excavated soils must be kept at least two feet from trench edges.
- Underground utilities must be located and marked before digging begins.
- Ladders must be positioned every 25 feet of lateral travel for safe entrance and exit from the trench.
OSHA has a national emphasis program on preventing trenching and excavation collapses, and developed a series of compliance assistance resources in English and Spanish to help keep workers safe from these hazards.
OSHA participates in the National Utility Contractors Association Trench Safety Month each June.