For many types of construction activities, from pipelines to building construction, workers are required to spend time in trenches. Kentucky workers should know the risks associated with working in a trench, and the federal government is making efforts to increase awareness of the dangers. Too often, safety measures are disregarded in the interest of time, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration hopes increased awareness will bring greater levels of compliance regarding workplace safety protocols related to working in trenches.
OSHA has set out specific safety measures for job sites including trench work. A trench is defined by the federal agency as any excavated workspace less than 15 feet wide that has a depth greater than its width. A cubic foot of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, which puts workers at tremendous risk of injury when safety measures are not followed. During 2016, the most recent period for which data is available, OSHA says trench-related deaths doubled from the previous year. In an effort to reduce that number, the agency is sponsoring an information campaign designed to educate construction companies and job site supervisors regarding safety measures and potential penalties for noncompliance, which include heavy fines and shutting down construction sites.
The most common type of trench-related injury comes from cave-ins and trench collapses. Excavators are supposed to keep soil from the edges of the trench at all times; if workers are at a depth of 5 feet or more, additional safety measures such as sloping and stepping of the grade are required. Ladders of adequate length are supposed to be within 25 feet of any worker inside a trench of 4 feet or deeper. Deeper trenches may require structural enhancements and certification from an engineer.
Trench safety can be a cost driver but is essential for worker welfare. Anyone with questions regarding job site safety or workplace injuries may get information by consulting an experienced workers compensation attorney.