OSHA’s Midwest Region is teaming up with state agencies and construction industry leaders in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin to raise awareness about excavation hazards.
Thirty-nine people died while performing trench or excavation work in the U.S. in 2022. Four of those deaths occurred in Illinois and two others in Ohio, according to OSHA.
Trench-related deaths have more than doubled since 2021. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 166 workers died in trench cave-ins from 2011 to 2018, an average of 21 per year.
‘Proper training, procedures can prevent these incidents’
These statistics led to the partnership that will see OSHA, state agencies and construction industry leaders teaming up on an outreach campaign to educate employers and workers in the Midwest about trench hazards.
“A trench collapse can bury workers under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in seconds, making escape and survival often impossible,” said OSHA Regional Administrator Bill Donovan. “With proper training and use of required safety procedures, incidents like these can be prevented.”
OSHA conducted 311 trenching and excavation inspections in 2022 at sites in Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. Six of these inspections were conducted following fatalities involving workers:
- falling into a trench
- being pinned between equipment
- trapped by a cave-in, or
- asphyxiated by naturally occurring hazardous gases in the trench.
6 things to remember for excavation safety
The agency said that employers and workers involved in trench work should remember that:
- protective systems – such as benching, sloping, shoring and shielding – must be in place for trenches 5-feet deep or deeper
- a registered professional engineer must approve trenches of 20-feet deep or deeper
- a competent person who is able to identify trench hazards must inspect trenches daily – and as conditions change – before anyone enters a trench
- excavated soils must be kept at least 2 feet from trench edges
- underground utilities must be located and marked before digging begins, and
- 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.
The agency’s trenching and excavation webpage has additional information on how to protect workers from trench hazards.