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Trench Safety: Preventing Collapses

Most trench collapses that cause injuries and fatalities are preventable through adherence to OSHA safety standards. Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 25 workers die in trench collapses in the United States. For construction workers, plumbers, and others who routinely work in trenches, the following safety measures can help prevent workplace injuries or deaths.

Trench Safety Protects Workers from Cave-ins

  • Keep the Edge of the Trench Clean. Debris and material pulled from the trench should be piled no closer than 2 feet from the trench edge. Ideally, material should be deposited even further away or removed from the site until the work within the trench is complete.
  • Shoring is Essential. All trenches that are deeper than 4 feet should be properly shored to prevent cave-ins. Shoring should be regularly inspected and any sections that have shifted or come loose should be repaired prior to continuing work in the trench.
  • Wear Helmets. Wearing hard hats can help prevent head injuries caused by falling debris when working within a trench.
  • Teamwork Is Vital. Operating in teams of two workers or more with one individual operating outside the trench helps ensure emergency help is available.
  • Mark Trenches. Marking off trenches using barriers, tapes, and other devices will alert passersby of the presence of an open trench. All vehicular traffic should be directed away from the trench and workers should not be in the trench when heavy machinery is driving past.
  • Ventilate the Trench. All trenches should be monitored for toxic gases. These include natural gas, diesel exhaust, methane, and other fumes that can seep through the soil or collect within the trench. Proper ventilation ensures that there is sufficient fresh air within the trench and helps reduce the risk of explosions which can cause a trench collapse.

OSHA Compliance

OSHA safety standards require that a competent individual oversee the operation of any trenches. At least one individual is required to properly classify the soil, supervise trench construction and water removal, and inspect protective devices within the trench. This individual must also design and monitor ramps and conduct regular trench inspections until the trench is filled and the work is complete. These requirements are non-negotiable and employers in Nevada who fail to perform these functions negligently place workers at risk of serious injury or death. When collapses occur, it’s common for a history of trench safety violations to emerge. 

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