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Watch For Trench Hazards On The Job

My name is Ron Wittmeyer. Today, I want to talk about a very specific type of one of the OSHA Fatal Four incidents. And that is being caught in a trench or an excavation site. This type of incident is very important to me because it had happened in one of the very first cases I was involved in as a young lawyer under the supervision of a senior partner.

It involved a construction worker who was down in a trench about eight feet deep when that trench collapsed, buried him, and he had no chance. He died and left a wife and two young children.

The employer’s responsibilities

An employer must make sure that the workers working in trenches and excavation sites are protected. And because this is such an extreme hazard, OSHA has very specific regulations about what an employer must do.

Designate a competent person to inspect trenching

One thing an employer must do is designate what’s called a competent person to inspect trenching. That competent person must be trained to identify different soil classifications and to use the various protection systems for workers for trenches. That person must also be trained in the OSHA standards for trenches.

In addition, a competent person must also be trained to recognize safety hazards involved in trenching and excavations and be authorized to take immediate corrective action once he or she identifies a safety hazard.

OSHA standards

OSHA has specific standards depending on the type of trench involved. For trenching that is deeper than five feet and less than 20 feet, OSHA requires workers to be protected by sloping, shoring, benching or a trench box. Any of those work protections would have saved the worker whose case I was involved in many years ago. OSHA has a specific trenching safety saying. It says, “Slop it. Shore it. Shield it.”

OSHA also requires that there must be a safe way for workers to get in and out of trenches or excavations. For trenches that are deeper than 20 feet, OSHA specifically requires that a professional engineer design the worker safety protection system involved.

What you must do as a worker

For a worker, if you’re going down into trenches and excavation sites, please get OSHA training so you know what safety measures are required and available. And do not enter a trench without those proper worker protection systems in place.

If you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email. Thanks for reading this post. And please, stay safe and be well.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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