Across the U.S., including Minnesota, 39 people died in 2022 in trench cave-ins during excavations. That number is more than double the average total. Thousands of pounds of debris can end up on top of workers in seconds, making it impossible to escape. Therefore, working with other federal and state agencies, the United States Department of Labor has launched an education campaign to educate workers and their employers about the danger.
Any excavated soils must be at least 2 feet from the trench’s edges. Before anyone enters the trench, hazards, exit routes and protective systems must be identified. Any underground utilities must be marked. A professional engineer must approve the trench if it is deeper than 20 feet. If the trench is longer than 25 feet, there must be a ladder every 25 feet for workers to use when entering and exiting the trench. A competent person must inspect the trench daily to ensure it remains stable.
OSHA Investigations of trench cave-ins
The United States Safety and Health Administration investigates every trench cave-in where a worker is killed. These investigations, which can last up to six months, sometimes result in employers facing hefty fines, and injured workers may be eligible for workers’ compensation. For example, a contractor near Jarrell, Texas was fined after two workers died. In that case, the contractor had tied two extension ladders together to provide an entry and exit point, failed to inspect the trench before the workers entered and failed to train workers in first aid.
Trench Safety Stand Down Week
Each June, thousands of workers receive special trench training during Trench Safety Stand Down Week, organized by utility construction companies. Approximately 47,000 workers at 4,500 job sites receive this training, usually led by first responders.
Annually, several people are injured or killed in trench cave-ins. OSHA and others are attempting to get the message out on how to be safe when working in and near a trench. In that effort, utility contractors host Trench Safety Stand Down Week each June.