OSHA publishes new educational materials on working safely during trenching operations
October 03, 2011

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today 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.

“No worker’s life should end in a trench. Cave–ins during excavations are some of the most common and grisliest causes of worker fatalities in construction, yet they are entirely preventable,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “I am deeply troubled by the continued violations of OSHA’s trenching standards, many of which bring tragic results. These new educational materials provide clear guidance on the necessary steps that employers must take to protect workers in trenches.”

The new information products, which are available on OSHA’s Publications page, include:

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 (29 CFR 1926.65029 CFR 1926.651, and 29 CFR 1926.652). 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 (Directive CPL 02-00-069 [CPL 2.69]), 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.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.