Digging Deeper on Trenching

Filed in Safety, Workplace Rights by on December 22, 2010 3 Comments

Workers should not be allowed in a trench without a protective system that includes sloping benching and a means of egress.

Digging a trench is more than shoveling dirt. Any child who’s ever played on the beach knows what happens when you dig a big hole in unstable soil. It caves in. But when there’s a worker down in a trench, it’s not so much fun. In fact a trench can easily turn into a grave when OSHA regulations are ignored by an employer.

A cubic yard of soil weighs about 2,700 pounds, the weight of a mid-sized automobile. A trench collapse may contain three to five cubic feet of soil. Do the math. That’s why any trench over five feet deep has to be shored, sloped or supported in some way to keep workers from being killed in a collapse.

Recently, OSHA issued Gerardi Sewer & Water Co. in Norridge, Ill., a fine of $360,000 for failing to protect workers from cave-ins during trenching operations. OSHA implemented a Trenching and Excavation Special Emphasis Program in the 1980s, so the industry is well aware of the safety regulations for trenching operations. Gerardi Sewer & Water has been inspected and cited by OSHA numerous times. There is no excuse for noncompliance at its jobsites. Because the company is a repeat offender of OSHA safety regulations, it has been placed on OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP). Initiated in the spring of 2010, SVEP is intended to focus on recalcitrant employers who endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations. Trenching is more than just digging a hole. Following OSHA regulations can save a life.

Ed. Note: This post was written by Kathy Webb, OSHA area director in North Aurora, Ill.

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Comments (3)

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  1. euonymous says:

    Is there some reason these companies and their management are not prosecuted for these violations? When and if an employee dies (or is injured) as a result of corporate practices sanctioned by management, that management should be held accountable. Particularly where those practices are not legal. That is the essence of justice. OSHA should be prosecuting management for prison terms, not just slapping wrists with fines.

  2. Amy says:

    It’s great to see that OSHA is responding to situations such as this — there is certainly no excuse for noncompliance at job sites. What exactly does it mean that they have been placed on OSHA’s (SVEP) list though? I assume that they will be reviewed more often but what else?


  3. The OSHA excavation standards are very comprehensive. So there should be a stand-alone portion just for the duties of the competent person. This is an important person responsible for overseeing the safety of trenching and excavation work, yet the OSHA excavation standards are very hard to read and find their responsibilities.

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