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Without Cave-in Protection, Excavations Can Be Deadly


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…


A 22-year old male carpenter died when the walls of an 8-foot excavation he was working in collapsed and completely covered him.

The employer excavated the trench going from a homeowner's basement to the homeowner's garage. The victim entered the unprotected trench and either kneeled or laid down at the bottom of the excavation to begin work. The south side of the excavation collapsed, completely burying the victim and burying a coworker up to his waist.

Emergency services were called and all employees at the job site jumped into the unprotected trench to rescue the two works. Emergency personnel arrived within minutes. The victim was removed from the trench and transported to the local hospital but he died the next day.

Read more >>  NIOSH Michigan Case Report 04MI160

Picture of the trench after the deadly cave-in.
Picture of the trench after the deadly cave-in.

The employer, the victim's father, was a licensed construction contractor. The victim had worked 7 years in the construction industry. This company did not have a written health and safety program, did not conduct employee training, and did not have a disciplinary policy for violations for health and safety. The employer was not familiar with the OSHA excavations standards, did not have excavation training, and proper excavation procedures were not being followed at the time of the incident.

Recommendations provided after this incident investigation include:

  • Employers should ensure when employees are working in excavations that require a supporting system that a supporting system is implemented in accordance with MIOSHA standard requirements.
  • Employers should ensure that a qualified person inspects the excavation, adjacent areas, and supporting systems on an ongoing basis and that the qualified person takes the appropriate measures necessary to protect workers.
  • Employers should design, develop, and implement a comprehensive safety program.
  • Employers should provide workers with training in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the required safe work practices that apply to their work environments.
  • Employers should ensure that equipment is moved away from open trenches when not in use.
  • Employers should develop a trench emergency action plan that describes rescue and medical duties and ensure that all employees are knowledgeable of those procedures.

To read more about this incident, please review the investigation report: NIOSH Michigan Case Report 04MI160

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.

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