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OSHA, industry leaders launch Midwest campaign about excavation safety

Last year, four Illinois workers died during trench or excavation work. They were among 39 who died nationwide in 2022 doing this hazardous type of work.

Unfortunately, that’s way up since before the pandemic. Between 2011 and 2018, 166 U.S. workers died in trench cave-ins, or an average of only 21 each year.

Even one preventable death is too many, and trench cave-ins are almost entirely preventable with proper training and safety practices.

With that in mind, OSHA’s Midwest region recently announced a new outreach campaign. It will involve state agencies, industry associations, employers and workers in an effort to reduce serious injuries and fatalities in trench work.

Some of those dangers are obvious; others less so. Trenches can be prone to collapse if dug improperly. Workers can be trapped in a collapsed trench or they could be asphyxiated due to hazardous gases. Workers can fall into trenches or pinned there by equipment.

“A trench collapse can bury workers under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in seconds, making escape and survival often impossible,” explained an OSHA spokesperson. “With proper training and use of required safety procedures, incidents like these can be prevented. OSHA and industry employers are working hard to raise awareness of hazards and protective measures and educate employers on how they must protect workers.”

What are the essential safety practices for trenches?

The safety standards developed by OSHA are meant to ensure trenches are properly dug, shored up, kept free from excavated soil, inspected, and given proper entry and egress.

  • Before digging begins, any underground utilities must be marked.
  • A registered professional engineer must approve any trench 20 feet deep or more.
  • Any trench five feet deep or more must incorporate protective systems (benching, sloping, shoring and shielding).
  • Excavated soil must be placed at least two feet from the edges of the trench.
  • A ladder must be placed every 25 feet of lateral travel in order to allow safe entry and egress from the trench.
  • A competent person must inspect every trench daily and as conditions change before anyone enters the trench. The competent person must be able to identify hazards, soil types and protective systems and have the authority to take prompt action to eliminate those hazards.

If you work construction, you’ve probably seen plenty of trenches that were of questionable safety. If you can, speak up about trench safety before someone gets hurt.

Injuries on construction sites are typically covered by workers’ comp

Contractors and subcontractors in Illinois are virtually all required to provide workers’ comp insurance for all their employees, including any workers who don’t have the right immigration paperwork.

That’s right: workers are covered by workers’ comp regardless of their immigration status.

You also don’t have to prove that your boss did anything wrong. Workers’ comp is a no-fault system, so you don’t have to show your employer was negligent.

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