OSHA Safety – Preventing Cave-Ins

Workers engaged in activities in and around excavations and trenches must be aware of the real possibility of a cave-in. In many situations, cave-ins are likely to occur if best practices aren’t followed, and workers fail to use the proper kind of protection to keep them safe. Failure to do this can have tragic consequences. Here is what you need to know about cave-in standards and protection.

Trench Cave-Ins Can Be Deadly

Trench collapses can result in serious injuries and even death. In 2020 alone, 21 workers died in workplace cave-ins. In just the last month of the year, employees in California, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, and South Dakota lost their lives due to collapsed trenches. When accidents aren’t fatal, they can result in serious crushing injuries that require long-term medical care and may have lasting consequences.

What Causes a Cave-In?

Undisturbed soil will remain in place because of the dirt’s opposing vertical and horizontal forces. An excavation, such as a trench, removes some of the soil that formerly provided that important support.

What is left behind during an excavation is eventually going to slide down into the trench. Sometimes that movement is gradual, which just produces a mess that workers have to clean up. But there is a real danger that the downward movement could be sudden and unexpected, in the form of toppling, sluffing, or sliding. When there are other factors present, like vibration or water, these types of events become even more likely.

A trench cave-in can happen in an instant and kill workers just as fast. Cave-ins containing five cubic yards of soil will weigh up to 14,000 pounds. It would only take a victim a few minutes to suffocate under this much weight in addition to suffering serious internal injuries.

OSHA Safety Standards to Prevent Cave-Ins

Even though trench-related accidents, injuries, and deaths continue to happen, cave-ins are tragedies because they are 100% preventable if employers were to strictly follow OSHA prevention standards. Specifically, employers must comply with OSHA’s excavation and trenching requirements laid out in 29 CFR 1926.651 and 1926.652 or equivalent OSHA-approved state plan requirements.

Trench Safety Measures

There must be a protective system in place if a trench is five feet deep or more unless the entire excavation is made of stable rock. If the trench is less than five feet deep, a competent person must determine whether or not a protective system is needed.

Trenches that are 20 feet deep or more must have a protective system in place that has been designed by a qualified engineer. Or, the system can be based on data prepared by or approved by an engineer.

Competent Person in Trench Safety

Because trenches are so hazardous, OSHA requires that safety systems and tasks that happen inside the trenches be designed by or assigned to a “competent person.” OSHA defines this as someone who has been trained to identify existing and predictable excavation hazards and who also has the authority to take fast action to eliminate any hazards.

Trench Access and Egress

OSHA has some specific guidelines about how workers should enter and exit trenches for the sake of worker safety and to prevent serious cave-ins. If dangerous conditions arise inside the trench, it’s important that workers are able to make a quick exit. For example, a trench that is four feet or more deep must have a ladder, ramp, or stairway that is within 25 feet of workers.

All structural ramps must be designed by a competent person. If a ramp is used instead of steps, it must have a non-slip surface.

Trench Protective Systems

The basic method to protect workers from cave-ins is to use shoring, benching, sloping, and shielding. Which method you use will depend on a variety of factors, such as the type of soil, its water content, and the depth and width of the trench.

Shoring refers to the installation of supports to prevent soil movement and cave-ins. Benching is the method of creating a series of steps with the soil. Sloping involves angling the wall of the trench away from the bottom of the excavation. And shielding employs boxes or other supports to protect workers from sliding debris.

Other Trench Safety Best Practices

According to OSHA, employers must also follow several other best practices to prevent cave-ins and keep workers safe:

  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
  • Identify underground utilities before digging.
  • Test for hazards such as toxic gasses and low oxygen in trenches.
  • Inspect trenches before and after each shift and following any rainfall.
  • Ensure workers wear high-visibility clothing in trenches.

Learn More About Preventing Cave-Ins in the Workplace

If you’ve suffered an injury from a trench cave-in or have lost a loved one to such a tragedy, it’s important to understand that employers have a duty to provide a safe work environment that protects workers from these types of accidents. Having appropriate guidelines, training, and protection in place is a vital part of workplace safety and cave-in prevention. To learn more about protecting yourself from cave-ins in the workplace, contact OSHA Injury Attorney directly.

Trench Safety – OSHA Guidelines on Digging and Working in Trenches

Excavation work is a vital part of any construction project, and trenches are used to create the foundation of nearly every structure, from homes and buildings to reservoirs and roadways. But these systems also expose workers to dangerous hazards.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), excavation and trenching work has a significantly higher fatality rate than that of general construction work. Because of the high risk of injury or death that construction workers face around trenches, contractors and companies must provide adequate protection. And if any injury occurs, workers are entitled to seek justice and compensation.

Dangers of Trench Accidents

Excavation and trenching might be routine on most construction sites, but that doesn’t mean the practices are without hazards. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is an average of 35 work-related deaths annually attributed to trenching or excavation cave-ins. And many injuries in trenches happen at depths of less than 10 feet.

OSHA reports that workers face several job site hazards related to trenching and excavation. These include:

  • Cave-ins– These are the primary hazard associated with excavation and trenching work, occurring when workers enter an unprotected trench, and the walls collapse.
  • Struck-by objects– This happens when a worker is struck by falling loads or collapsing walls within a trench.
  • Utility lines– Worker’s risk hitting utility lines above or below a trench, leading to electrocution or a dangerous gas leak or explosion.
  • Hazardous atmosphere– Some trenches are deep enough to have low oxygen levels or might be contaminated by chemicals or toxic gases.

OSHA Guidelines on Digging and Working in Trenches

The best way to protect workers from these safety hazards is to follow OSHA’s guidelines on excavation and trenching. These are outlined in 29 CFR 1926.651 and 1926.652 and include:

Trench Safety Measures

Trenches that are five feet (1.5 meters) or deeper must have a protective system unless the excavation system is constructed entirely of stable rock. If the trench is less than five feet deep, a competent person can decide whether a protective system is needed.

Trenches 20 feet (6.1 meters) or deeper must have a protective system that is designed by a registered professional engineer or be based on data approved and/or prepared by a registered professional engineer according to OSHA’s guidelines.

Competent Person

Because conditions change, OSHA regulations require that trenches be inspected daily by a competent person before workers are permitted to enter the area to ensure the absence of any hazards. OSHA defines a competent person as “an individual who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to others…and who is authorized to take corrective action to eliminate these conditions.”

Access and Egress

OSHA rules require that there be safe access and egress to all excavation, including ramps, steps, ladders, and other safe means of entry and exit for employees working in trenches four feet (1.22 meters) or deeper.

General Trenching and Excavation Rules

  • Never work under raised loads
  • Keep heavy equipment away from trenches
  • Inspect trenches daily and after rainfall
  • Test for toxic gases and low oxygen
  • Find out where underground utilities are located

Protective Systems

When it comes to protective systems, OSHA wants you to know the 3 S’s of trenching:

  • Slope or bench trench walls by cutting them back at an angle.
  • Shore trench walls by inserting supports in trenches under 20 feet to prevent soil movement.
  • Shield trench walls by using trench boxes or other supports to prevent soil collapse.

Common Causes of Trench Collapses

The lack of a protective system is the leading cause of trench collapses. Other factors that can contribute to the failure of trench include:

  • Weak or unstable soil
  • Depth of the trench
  • Failure to properly inspect the trench
  • Environmental factors
  • Vibrations from vehicles or heavy equipment
  • Proximity to previously backfilled excavations
  • Stress loading on the soil

Contact OSHA Injury Attorney Today

There are a number of hazards surrounding excavation and trench work, which OSHA tries to mitigate with its regulations. But accidents and injuries still happen on construction sites daily. If you’ve been injured working around trenches or have questions about the OSHA regulations that may apply to your case, our experienced injury attorney network can help.

At OSHA Injury Attorney, we can help you understand your rights as well as what steps to take to pursue full compensation if you’ve been hurt. To learn more about our services and how our partner firms can help, contact us today.