If there’s a reason why trench-related construction fatalities have doubled in the past year, Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels isn’t buying it. “There is no excuse,” Michaels said in a recent statement. “These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards everyone should know. It’s an alarming and unacceptable trend that must be halted.”
By December, the number of trench-related fatalities totaled 23 for the year, as compared to 12 in 2015. A dozen other workers reported trench-related injuries this year, three fewer than last year.
The issue came to a boil in late November, when OSHA cited Jamestown, Ohio-based KRW Plumbing for violations that resulted in the June death of a 33-year-old employee who was digging soil out of a 12-foot trench in Washington Township, Ohio. The walls surrounding him collapsed, burying him in thousands of pounds of dirt.
OSHA notes that among excavation hazards, trench cave-ins pose the greatest risk for injury or death, outnumbering falls, falling objects, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment. Among the reasons: “One cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds — the weight of a small automobile — giving a worker little chance of survival when walls of soil collapse,” according to OSHA.