OSHA responds to ‘alarming’ increase in trench deaths

Dive Brief:

  • In response to an “alarming” increase in trench-related fatalities, OSHA has launched an enhanced enforcement initiative to protect workers from the hazard, the Department of Labor organization announced.
  • In the first six months of 2022, 22 workers died from hazards in trench and excavation work, according to OSHA. That surpassed the 15 that perished in all of 2021.
  • OSHA said it would consider various enforcement tools, including adding emphasis for how officials evaluate penalties, and criminal referrals for federal or state prosecution to hold employers or others accountable for putting workers’ lives at risk.

Dive Insight:

OSHA highlighted a June 28 incident as an impetus for its decision. In Jarrell, Texas, two workers, aged 20 and 39, died when the 20-foot trench they worked in collapsed on them. Shields to reinforce their trench could have saved their lives. They sat unused beside the excavation, OSHA said.

“In a matter of seconds, workers can be crushed and buried under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in an unsafe trench. The alarming increase in the number of workers needlessly dying and suffering serious injuries in trenching incidents must be stopped,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health.

The push for criminal referrals echoes a bill — dubbed “Carlos’ Law” — which recently made it to the desk of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. The bill, named after a worker who died in an improperly reinforced trench seven years ago, would elevate the minimum fines to $500,000 for those charged with a felony and found criminally responsible in such incidents.

“Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards,” Parker said. “There simply is no excuse for ignoring safety requirements to prevent trench collapses and cave-ins, and leaving families, friends and co-workers to grieve when the solutions are so well-understood.”

Leave a comment