Workers doing activities in and around trenches and excavations must be alert to the real possibility of a trench cave-in. In most situations, a cave-in is likely to happen if there is no protection and workers should be aware of the specific type of protection they need to keep them safe while working in a trench or excavation. The most important rule is to never enter an unprotected excavation or trench!
OSHA Standard 1926.652(a)(1) Each employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system…
YOUNG LABORER DIES IN TRENCH COLLAPSE INCIDENT
A 17-year old male laborer died and a coworker was injured after one of the unprotected walls of a trench they were working in collapsed, striking them and partially burying them with soil.
The day before the incident, the excavator operator had removed the trench shield used during the sewer installation project to facilitate the removal of broken sewer pipes. When work was resumed the next day, the trench shield was not replaced, and the victim and a coworker went into the unprotected trench.
While they were placing a grade pole inside the terminal end of the sewer line, a section of the trench wall caved in, burying the victim to his mid-chest and the coworker to his knees. The coworker was saved, but the 17-year old victim died 5 hours after the incident.
Read more >> NIOSH In-House FACE Report 2000-03
The construction contractor in charge of this operation had approximately 31 years of experience in construction related activities. This contractor had a safety program but had not implemented the program or provided employees, including the victim, with safety training. The company's foreman held weekly toolbox talks with the crew which included trench safety, but the victim had not yet participated in any of these talks. The incident occurred on the victim's second week of employment and his third day of working at this job site.
Recommendations provided after this incident investigation include:
- ensure that workers are protected at all times from potential cave-ins by an adequate protective system
- identify all workers on the work site who are under 18 years old and make their presence known to all other employees on the work site Inform all employees of the work assignments that are appropriate for these youthful workers and the limits on what they can do
- ensure that a competent person conducts daily inspections of excavations, adjacent areas and protective systems and takes appropriate measures necessary to protect workers
- provide workers with training in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the required safe work practices that apply to their work environments
To read more about this incident, please review the investigation report: NIOSH In-House FACE Report 2000-03
In addition to ensuring a written safety program is in place, and implemented, and proper trenching and excavation procedures are followed on every job site, there should be regular safety meetings held to ensure all employees are reminded of safe practices when it comes to trenching and excavation.