Back in 2008, we did an article on the most frequently cited OSHA standards that pertain to trenching and excavation inspections. This morning, I was looking at current OSHA citation statistics and things have not changed at all. The top five most frequently cited Trenching and Excavation Standards in 2008 are still the same in 2016. But what is very concerning is the alarming statistic that in 2016, trench collapse fatalities have more than doubled when compared to 2015. Additionally, a worker in a collapsed trench is more likely to be killed than injured (68 fatalities vs. 45 injuries in the past 5 years).
According to OSHA, the fatality rate for excavation work is 112% higher than the rate for general construction. Cave-ins are typically the most feared trenching hazard, but other potentially fatal hazards exist including asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen, inhalation of toxic fumes, drowning, etc. Electrocution or explosions can occur as well when workers contact underground utilities. Trenching operations are a high priority when it comes to where OSHA focuses its resources. The following five OSHA regulations are the most frequently cited for trenching and excavation work:
#1: 29cfr1926.652(a)(1) Requires that each employee in an excavation be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system except when:
The excavation is made entirely in stable rock; or
The excavation is less than 5 feet (1.52 m) in depth and examination of the ground by a competent person provides no indication of a potential cave-in.
#2: 29cfr1926.651(c)(2) Requires a stairway, ladder, ramp, or other safe means of egress to be located in trench excavations that are 4 feet or more in depth so as to require no more than 25 feet of lateral travel for employees to reach this device.
#3: 29cfr1926.651(k)(1) Requires that daily inspections of excavations, the adjacent areas, and protective systems be made by a competent person for evidence of a situation that could result in possible cave-ins, indications of failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, or other hazardous conditions. OSHA states the inspection is to be conducted by the competent person prior to the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. Inspections shall also be made after every rainstorm or other hazard increasing occurrence. These inspections are only required when you expect the employees to be in the trench or excavation.
#4: 29cfr1926.651(j)(2) States that employees are to be protected from excavated or other materials or equipment that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling into excavations. Protection is to be provided by placing and keeping such materials or equipment at least 2 feet from the edge of excavations, or by the use of retaining devices that are sufficient to prevent materials or equipment from falling or rolling into excavations, or by a combination of both.
#5: 29cfr1926.651(k)(2) States that if the competent person finds evidence of a situation that could result in a possible cave-in, indications of failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, or other hazardous conditions, then the exposed employees are to be removed from the hazardous area until the necessary precautions have been taken to ensure their safety.
If you would like assistance in the area of trenching and excavation safety including training, program development, or site assessments, please contact Advanced Safety & Health at (502) 240-6910 to assist you.
Related Article: Does OSHA Require Fall Protection Around Trenches?