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Preventing Trench Fatalities and Injuries on the Jobsite

Did you know that most trench fatalities occur in excavations, including trenches that are only 5 – 15 feet deep?  They often occur where there is no trained competent person assigned to oversee the work to keep it safe. Preventing trench fatalities and injuries on the jobsite is a top priority for all employers. June is Trench Safety Month and June 14-18 will be Trench Safety Stand Down Week.

OSHA requires employers to train all their workers about trench safety.  In addition, employers are required to train and assign a competent person to every job that involves workers working in and around trenches and other excavations.

Every excavation 5 feet or more in depth is required by OSHA to be protected by a trench protective system – sloping, shoring, or shielding.  In some states a protective system is required for excavations deeper than 4 feet. In any event, a trench protective system is required to protect workers.  Also, even when trenches are less than 4 or 5 feet deep a competent person must make a judgement call about whether or not it is safe to enter into the trench and then take appropriate action.  If in doubt, the competent person should use a trench protective system to ensure workers are not injured or worse, killed in the trench.

What safety factors should be considered before and during work in an excavation?

  • Underground and overhead utilities
  • Surrounding traffic
  • Proximity and physical condition of nearby structures
  • Soil classification
  • Surface and ground water
  • Location of the water table
  • Weather
  • Fall protection needs
  • Number of ladders that may be needed
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Mobile earth moving equipment being used.
  • Air quality within the trench

As you can see the knowledge that is needed by all workers entering an excavation is imperative.   Are your crews prepared?  Trained? Have the right equipment?  Take the time to communicate with your employees the importance of all safety factors to prevent trench fatalities and injuries on the jobsite.

For fact information on the OSHA website, click here. Printable OSHA Quick Card click here. “Slope It. Shore It. Shield It” sticker.

For more information or assistance on training or assistance with trench awareness, please call 763-417-9599 or email

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Submitted by Tim Peterson, CHST