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KY Officials Issue Hazard Alert for Trench Fatalities

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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Officials at Kentucky’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program recently issued a hazard alert in response to what the organization calls an alarming rise in trench work fatalities.

The group—a surveillance program of the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the University of Kentucky, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—expands on data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that shows 23 construction workers were killed in 2016 (the latest complete yearly numbers), which is more than the total trench deaths of 2014 and 2015 combined.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Officials at Kentucky’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program recently issued a hazard alert in response to what the organization calls an alarming rise in trench work fatalities.

Officials outlined three such deaths that occurred in Kentucky from June 2015 to December 2017:

  • Case 1: Two employees were working within a trench box. However, the top of the trench box was nearly five feet below the surface. A large section of ground and concrete broke off and collapsed into the trench, striking and killing one of the workers.
  • Case 2: A construction worker was installing an 18-inch drainage pipe. He entered the trench (benched on one side and vertical on the other) to check the depth. The vertical side collapsed onto him.
  • Case 3: A subcontracted employee was working in an approximately 15-foot-deep trench when the sides of the trench caved in and engulfed him.

KFACE went on to detail several tips for protection construction workers who are performing trench work:

  • Have a competent person inspect trenches prior to each work shift and after every rainstorm or other hazard-increasing occurrence;
  • All trenches between five feet and 20 feet in depth must have protective measures such as benching, shoring, sloping and shielding to protect employees. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer;
  • Keep excavated soil and other materials at least two feet from trench edges;
  • Train employees on how to spot signs of an imminent trench collapse, such as tension cracks, bulging and toppling; and
  • Provide a safe method to exit trenches within 25 feet of workers.

Other States

Kentucky isn’t the only state cracking down on trench collapses. In January, for the first time in Washington state’s history, prosecutors filed felony charges against a contractor for an employee’s death.

That accident occurred in January 2016, when crews from Alki Construction were working on a sewer repair project at a Seattle site when a trench collapsed just before 11 a.m. Worker Harold Felton was buried in six feet of wet soil, reports said, and when the Seattle Fire Department arrived there were indications that he was alive.

After about 20 minutes at the scene, crews changed from a rescue mission to a recovery mission.

OSHA’s notes on the accident say that the trench “was 21 inches wide by 6 feet long and dug in sandy/loam soil between a sidewalk and the house foundation. There was one hydraulic shore on one side of the trench. There was no shoring at either end.”


Tagged categories: Accidents; Fatalities; Hazards; Health and safety; NIOSH; OSHA; Safety

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