Written by: Monica Munin, Esq.
The United States Department of Labor announced enhanced enforcement initiatives intended to address a sharp rise in trench-related fatalities on July 16, 2022. In the announcement, available here: Alarming rise in trench-related fatalities spurs US Department of Labor to announce enhanced nationwide enforcement, additional oversight | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov), the United States Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) indicated that the agency is considering referring cases for criminal prosecution as part of a “crackdown” on trenching and evacuation violations. The agency noted that “enforcement staff will consider every available tool at the agency’s disposal.”
Twenty-two (22) individuals employed in trenching and excavation work met their demise during the first six months of 2022, more than the 15 deaths recorded for all of 2022. Jessica E. Martinez, co-executive director for the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health commented on the enhanced enforcement initiative, stating “there is no reason—ever—for a worker to die unprotected in a trench collapse…workers have been building trenches for literally thousands of years. We know how to do it safely: Slope the trench at a safe angle, shore it up, or shield workers with appropriate safety equipment.” Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, Doug Parker, added “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is calling on employers engaged in trenching and excavation activities to act immediately to ensure that required protections are fully in place every single time their employees step down into or work near a trench…In a matter of seconds, workers can be crushed and buried under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in an unsafe trench. The alarming increase in the number of workers needlessly dying and suffering serious injuries in trenching accidents must be stopped.”
Generally, OSHA requires employers to provide workers with a safe workplace. As applied to trenching and excavation, OSHA requires the following specific protections:
- Daily inspection of the trench by competent persons
- Cave-in protection measures
- A safe manner to enter and exit the trench
- The removal of equipment and material from the edge of the trench
- Verification each day that the trench is free of standing water and atmospheric hazards
- A protective system for trenches five feet or deeper
- A protective system designed by a registered professional engineer for trenches 20 feet or deeper
OSHA has also developed the following “slogan” for trench safety:
- SLOPE or bench trench walls by cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from excavation.
- SHORE trench walls by installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement.
- SHIELD trench walls by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins.
OSHA takes the position that all trench fatalities are preventable, and the imposition of criminal penalties adds to the number of reasons employers should seek out advice from an attorney familiar with OSHA requirements to avoid such citations. If you have a question regarding compliance with OSHA Safety Standards as it pertains to trenches and excavation, or anything else, please email Monica Munin, Esq. at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer