A Broken Record

Trench collapse deaths were at their highest level in years in 2022, making it appropriate to once again emphasize the importance of proper safety protocols

The topic of this month’s column, trench safety, is nothing new. It’s been addressed before in the pages of this magazine and in numerous articles over the years on Cleaner.com.

But the need to bring it up again seemingly hasn’t waned. As 2022 was coming to a close OSHA reported that there had been 35 worker fatalities due to trench collapses during the year, more than double the number of incidents in 2021 and the highest amount in at least a decade.

A cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds and all it takes is mere seconds for a trench to cave in. There’s no mystery behind how to prevent such incidents. Yet there are still a number of companies that choose to side-step the proper safety measures and put their employees at risk. Why? There isn’t a good answer.

I’m often at a loss on how to broach this subject because what new information is there to present? We know how to make trenches safe to work in. All there is to do is continue to emphasize the importance of always following those safety procedures and not becoming complacent about it. You could be lackadaisical about proper trench safety and get away with it for a long time with no problems. But all it takes is one time, with the worst-case scenario being death.

As I’m writing this, I’ve come across several reports about the conclusions to OSHA investigations into incidents that caused worker deaths. They all read the same: Workers entered deep trenches with no shoring protection in place. There were no inspections done at the beginning of the work day. There was a cave-in. Worker or workers died. OSHA proposes hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties to the responsible company.

There have been news items about more recent trench collapses, all across the country — Colorado, Maryland, Texas, Pennsylvania, Kansas. Some ended in tragedy. Others were simply a close call. Such stories are often vague about whether property safety measures were in place, only stating that an OSHA investigation is underway. I’m sure I can guess what those investigations will discover.

In another recent news story, I read about the signing of a new state law in New York that significantly raises the minimum penalties for companies receiving criminal convictions for worker deaths or serious injuries. The law is named after Carlos Moncayo, a man who died in a trench collapse in 2015. I guess the potential for loss of life isn’t enough for some companies and they need the threat of considerable monetary penalties in order to follow basic safety protocols to protect their employees.

I hope all of you readers aren’t like some of the companies overlooking proper safety procedures I’ve seen highlighted in these recent news stories. I know it’s easy and tempting to ignore some safety items, especially if you’ve never had a bad incident. But it’s not worth it. All it takes is once.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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