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Excavation and Trench Safety


Aileen C. Bartlett


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently cited a Massachusetts excavation company for willful and serious violations of excavation safety standards.  The Wakefield contractor faces over $144,000 in proposed fines following an OSHA inspection of a Milton work site last August.  According to OSHA’s Braintree office, the workers were installing water mains in a trench over six feet deep, with no cave-in protection or means of egress. The workers were also exposed to falling debris that accumulated above the trench.

Excavating is recognized as one of the most hazardous construction jobs, with trench cave-ins posing the greatest risk to workers.  In fact, in the United States two workers are killed every month in trench collapses.  OSHA standards require that any trenches 5 feet deep or greater have a protective system, unless the excavation is made entirely of stable rock.  For trenches 20 feet or greater in depth, OSHA requires that the protective system be designed, prepared, or approved by a registered professional engineer.  If a trench is less than 5 feet in depth, a competent person may determine that a protective system is not required.

OSHA standards also require safe access and egress for excavations 4 feet or more in depth.   Means of egress, such as ladders, steps, and ramps, must be located within 25 feet of all workers.  Other trenching and excavation rules include keeping heavy equipment away from trench edges, keeping excavated materials at least 2 feet from trench edges, knowing where underground utilities are located, testing for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases, inspecting trenches at the start of each shift and following  rainstorms, and not working under raised loads and materials.

The attorneys at KECHES LAW GROUP, P.C. are experienced in handling construction-related injuries.  If you or someone you know has been injured at work, contact KLG for a free consultation.

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