Tuesday, May 04, 2004

CDC: Trench Collapse Still a Major Problem

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a report on trenching fatalities that concludes that deaths from trench cave-ins are still a serious problem despite the fact that compliance with OSHA's standard would prevent these deaths.
  • Of the fatalities, 256 (47%) occurred among employees of companies with less than 10 workers, and 381 (70%) occurred in companies with less than 50 workers.

  • The industries most frequently reporting fatalities were those involved in "excavation work," followed by "water, sewer, pipeline, and communications and power-line construction."

  • A total of 507 (94%) workers killed were employed in private industry, 31 (5%) decedents were local government workers, and the remaining four (1%) were employed elsewhere.

  • Although excavation and trenching fatalities occurred in various occupations (Table 2), the largest proportion of deaths occurred among construction laborers. Cave-ins accounted for 76% of fatalities
Two case-studies were used as examples:
Case 1. In January 2003, two Hispanic construction laborers (brothers aged 15 and 16 years), who were employed by a company with 65 employees, died when the trench in which they were working caved in (4). The laborers were installing conduit in a trench 8 feet deep and 2 feet wide. When work started, the jobsite foreman instructed the crew leader to operate a backhoe to dig the trench and then left the site to check on another job. Approximately 1 hour later, the trench collapsed, burying the two laborers. Co-workers uncovered the two workers and removed them from the trench as the rescue squad arrived. The workers could not be revived. The FACE investigation indicated an absence of protective equipment or precautions (e.g., no trench box, benching, sloping, or shoring) that could have prevented the collapse of the trench.

Case 2. In May 2003, a Hispanic male pipe layer aged 23 years died after being struck by the teeth of an excavator bucket while in a trench (5). The pipe layer, who worked for a company with 95 employees, was installing concrete water drainage piping along a roadway. The work process involved the excavator operator cutting a trench and lowering in a new section of pipe, while the pipe layer was in the trench connecting the pipe sections and working around the moving excavator bucket. In this operation, the walls of the trench reportedly were sloped back or benched to prevent cave-ins. A "spotter" designated to ensure that workers remained out of the way of the moving excavator and its bucket had been assigned temporarily to another task at the time of the incident. The operator was reversing the excavator to make a new soil cut when the pipe layer was struck by the bucket at the right-side chest and neck area, causing fatal injuries.

The report concludes that OSHA trenching and excavation standard is comprehensive and effective, and complying with it will save lives.