“With proper training and strong enforcement of the existing OSHA excavation standard, every trench fatality is preventable,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan, reviewing the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). “We’re gratified to see the recent progress, but much more needs to be done.”

New Pocket Guide for Trench Safety

Last month, in conjunction with the Laborers-AGC, the LHSFNA published Safety in the Trenches, a new, 26-page pocket guide. Using diagrams and short text sections, the guide explains trench hazards, the competent person, soil types and the sloping, benching and shoring options available to ensure safety. It also includes a glossary and graphic summaries of Subpart P excavation requirements. LIUNA members and participating signatory contractors can order it online or by calling 202-628-5465.

Three years after a spike in trench fatalities provoked a concerted response from the construction industry, a sharp decline for 2006 indicates that the reaction may be paying off. In 2003, 59 workers were killed in trench and excavation accidents, compared to 33 in 2002 and 36 in 2001. In 2006, according to preliminary data, the number dropped to 29. 

Because construction involves millions of workers and hundreds of thousands of contractors and worksites all over the country, it is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of this progress. OSHA had issued a call to contractors and unions to address trench safety and had prepared a new poster and a Quickcard, both in English and Spanish. The contractor associations took up the call, stressing the need for their members to follow the standard. The Laborers-AGC – the training arm of LIUNA and its signatory employers – put new emphasis on its 12-module, Trench and Excavation Safety training program. NIOSH, the National Utility Contractors Association and the Construction Institute all issued new, trench safety training videos. Also, the fact that state regulators and prosecutors applied criminal charges in a few high-profile workplace tragedies – some of which involved trench fatalities – probably spurred awareness and corrective action.

“There’s nothing inevitable about trench collapses,” says O’Sullivan, “and the work of the last couple of years shows that these catastrophes can be prevented. We have the necessary standard. What we need is contractors who follow it and OSHA inspectors that aggressively pursue enforcement among those who do not.” 

[Steve Clark]