Trenching accidents almost always involve an unthinkable event that can lead to injury or death: Being buried alive. But every trench failure is avoidable with proper planning, training and safety measures.
Beyond the obvious motivation to avoid serious injuries and deaths, OSHA last year announced a national enforcement emphasis program for trench safety after a spike in trenching deaths.
The National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) organizes an annual Trench Safety Stand Down in the middle of June. This week’s focus for National Safety Month is also trenching.
The stand down gives employers and supervisors the opportunity to speak directly to workers about trench and excavation hazards.
Trench collapses, or cave-ins, pose the greatest risk to workers' lives. To prevent cave-ins, jobsites should use OSHA’s “Slope It. Shore It. Shield It.” method:
- SLOPE or bench trench walls,
- SHORE trench walls with supports, or
- SHIELD trench walls with trench boxes
According to NUCA, most trenching accidents occur in trenches of 5 to 15 feet deep, and there is usually no warning before a cave-in.
The Trench Safety Stand Down is a good time for home builders to review their procedures for digging and excavating. NAHB has a video toolbox talk (embedded below) that builders can use to present to their workers and subcontractors, and additional resources in the NAHB Trenching and Excavation Toolkit.