New educational materials promote safe trenching operations

December 2011, Vol. 66 No. 12

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released three new guidance products to educate workers and employers about the hazards workers face in trenching operations. Unprotected trenches are among the deadliest hazards in the construction industry and the loss of life is devastating: since 2003, more than 200 workers have died in trench cave-ins, and hundreds more have been seriously injured.

The new information products, which are available on OSHA’s Publications page, include:
• “Trenching and Excavation” fact sheet – an overview of the hazards that can occur while performing trenching operations and the safety measures required to protect workers;
• “Working Safely in Trenches” QuickCard – an easy-to-use guide to trenching hazards and safety measures with graphics; and
• “Do Not Enter an Unprotected Trench!” poster – a resource for construction workplaces informing workers what steps must be taken to ensure trench safety, along with the warning “An Unprotected Trench is an Early Grave.”

Subjects covered in the three documents include proper shoring and sloping; evaluations by competent persons; means of access/egress; atmospheric hazard testing; and protective systems. The guidance also describes the protective measures that are required under OSHA’s excavation standards. Spanish-language versions of the documents are also available.

Because of the severity of trenching hazards, OSHA conducts a Special Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavations which sets procedures for enforcement activities wherever trenching and excavation worksites are observed. When OSHA’s compliance officers see a trench, they will inspect a trench. On two separate occasions in the past year, this Special Emphasis Program allowed OSHA compliance officers to remove workers from unsupported trenches minutes before they collapsed – likely preventing possible injury and loss of life.

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