Jun 2024

CPWR Reports Trenching and Excavation Deaths Rose 160% in 2022

A construction worker is seen from behind, working in a trench on a city street. He is operating a large excavator, guiding its bucket as it digs into the ground.

The number of workers killed in trenching and excavation accidents nearly tripled from 15 in 2021 to 39 in 2022. A new report from The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) sheds light on this tragic trend. It examines data on fatal and nonfatal injuries as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforcement of trenching standards.

The findings shed light on the importance of the annualĀ Trench Safety Stand Down in promoting safe work practices to protect workers from preventable trench collapses and other hazards.

How common are trenching and excavation accidents?

Construction workers face a disproportionate risk of trenching and excavation accidents, with the industry accounting for a staggering share of both fatal and nonfatal injuries:

  • From 2011 to 2021, construction workers made up 85% of all fatal trenching injuries.
  • Similarly, 90% of nonfatal trenching injuries from 2011 to 2022 occurred in the construction industry.
  • In 2022, Hispanic workers were particularly impacted and comprised more than a third of all trenching and excavation fatalities.

Nonfatal trenching injuries in construction have fluctuated over the past decade:

  • Injuries decreased by 42.9% from 2011-2012 to 2021-2022.
  • The injury rate also declined by 57.1% during this period.
  • However, a peak occurred in 2013-2014, with 600 nonfatal injuries.
  • From 2021-2022, there were 200 nonfatal trenching injuries in construction.

How do trenching and excavation accidents happen?

Common causes of trenching and excavation accidents include:

  • Cave-ins: These occur when the walls of a trench collapse due to a lack of proper shoring or support systems.
  • Falls: Workers can fall into trenches or excavation sites if protective barriers and proper signage are not in place.
  • Falling loads: Materials or equipment falling into the trench can strike and injure workers below.
  • Hazardous atmospheres: The accumulation of toxic gases or the lack of oxygen in trenches can pose serious health risks to workers.
  • Utility line strikes: Excavation can unintentionally damage underground utilities such as gas lines, leading to explosions or other hazardous conditions.
  • Equipment accidents: Heavy machinery used in excavation can malfunction or be improperly operated.
  • Flooding: Water accumulation from rain or broken pipes can lead to trench instability and drowning hazards.

What is OSHA’s enforcement of trenching standards?

OSHA has taken an active role in enforcing trenching safety standards. Trenching and excavation violations account for a significant portion of citations and penalties in the construction industry:

  • In 2023, trenching violations comprised 9% of all penalties and 4% of all citations issued in construction.
  • From 2011 to 2023, the average annual number of trenching citations was 2,200, representing 2.8% to 3.9% of all construction citations.
  • After OSHA launched its National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation in 2018, trenching citations increased by 36.8% in 2019.

The heavy and civil engineering construction subsector has been particularly impacted by OSHA enforcement:

  • Between 2011 and 2023, 52% of trenching citations were issued to employers in this subsector.
  • In comparison, only 8.1% of all construction citations during this period were issued to heavy and civil engineering construction firms.

The most frequently cited specific trenching standards include:

  • Protections of employees in excavations (1926.652 A): 34.5% of trenching citations
  • Specific excavation requirements; Inspections (1926.651 K): 17.1% of trenching citations
  • Specific excavation requirements access and egress (1926.651 C): 16.8% of trenching citations

Trench Safety Stand Down raises awareness of trenching and excavation hazards

The Trench Safety Stand Down is an annual event in June that protects workers from trenching and excavation hazards. This year, it took on added significance in light of the alarming increase in trenching fatalities. The stand-down allows employers, supervisors, and workers to pause work and review best practices, safety protocols, and company policies related to trenching operations. This event aims to raise awareness of trench safety and foster a culture of prevention.

Get the workers’ comp benefits you deserve after a trenching or excavation accident

If you sustained injuries in a trenching accident or any other workplace incident in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. However, getting these benefits isn’t an easy process. It’s important to seek legal help from an experienced workers’ comp attorney to maximize your chances of getting compensated.

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl are ready to protect your rights as an injured worker. With our extensive knowledge of work comp law and OSHA regulations, we provide compassionate legal support and advocacy to help you secure the benefits and compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help you.

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