Trench fatalities are a serious problem in construction. Cave-ins cause about 75 percent of trench fatalities, with the remaining fatalities commonly due to struck-bys or electrocutions. Trenches collapse when they are not properly protected through sloping, benching, shoring or shielding.
Competent person requirements are a major part of OSHA’s trenching and excavation standard. Among other duties, the competent person assesses the soil type of trenches and inspects conditions before each shift and after any changes in conditions.
Nationwide, about 20 percent of construction work is union, yet only six percent of trench fatalities are union members. The lower rate suggests that union jobs are safer, that supervisors and workers on union sites are better trained and that the union offers the kind of protection that workers need to speak up about safety issues on the worksite.
Confined spaces, such as crawlspaces and manholes, can often present atmospheric hazards (e.g., lack of sufficient oxygen, toxic chemicals) or physical hazards. OSHA’s confined spaces standard details the steps that must happen before workers enter confined spaces and the continuous monitoring procedures necessary to keep workers safe during work in confined spaces.
Workings in trenches and confined spaces can be two of the most dangerous tasks for Laborers because if the work is not done safely, a fatality is often the result. However, keeping Laborers and other workers safe in these environments can be achieved with proper planning, training and risk assessment.