USA: 30 years of trenching rules enforcement and still 30 deaths a year

In 1985 the US Government’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) initiated a Special Emphasis Program covering trenching and excavation. Announcing the move, is that “Because of the continuing incidence of trench/excavation collapses and accompanying loss of life, the agency has determined that an increased OSHA enforcement presence at worksites where such operations are being conducted is warranted.”

That move came following the introduction of enforcement of trenching rules more than a decade earlier, and the OSHA said: “Although it would be expected that, after more than 12 years of enforcement activity, most employers would be adhering to shoring and sloping requirements, experience has shown that such is not the case.”

It continued: “OSHA believes that the rate of deaths and serious injuries resulting from trench/excavation accidents (mostly cave-ins) can be significantly affected only by a concentration of compliance resources within the area of trenching and excavation operations.”

Almost 30 years on that program is still running and still uncovering blatant and wilful violations of the rules governing trenching, violations that the OSHA says resulted in 30 deaths in the USA in 2013.

This year alone the OSHA has sought fines of $US144,400 from Wakefield Massachusetts excavation and utilities contractor Joseph P Cardillo & Son for “wilful and serious violations of excavation safety standards,” after charging the company with the same violations in 2010. In 2011 the firm was placed on the OSHA’s Severe Violator Enforcement Program which “concentrates resources on inspecting employers who have demonstrated indifference to their OSH Act obligations by wilful, repeated, or failure to-abate violations.”

Earlier this month the OSHA announced that it was seeking penalties of $US58,100 from Fischer Excavating for wilfully exposing workers to trenching hazards at a work site in Rockford. Three serious violations were issued for failing to have a ladder extend three feet (one metre) above the landing area to provide an exit for workers in a trench, failing to support a section of curb to prevent collapse into the trench and for failing to require workers to wear high-visibility vests near traffic.

The OSHA's area director in North Aurora, Kathy Webb, said that with the special emphasis program having been in operation since the mid 1980s, “Companies like Fisher Excavating should be well aware of the safety regulations for trenching operations and the potentially catastrophic hazards for workers."

Commenting on a similar violation in 2013, David Nelson, OSHA's area director in Greenwood Village, said: "Employers continue to expose workers to trenching hazards that can end a life in a matter of seconds when a trench caves in. OSHA will not tolerate such disregard for worker safety. During the last 20 years, OSHA has provided a number of resources for employers to eliminate trenching hazards."

Will they ever learn?

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