Responding to a steep increase in deaths from trenching accidents, federal officials are planning to go after negligent contractors with referrals for criminal prosecutions and other increased penalties
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also announced Thursday that it will conduct more than 1,000 inspections of excavation sites throughout the U.S. States like Wisconsin that run their own OSHA agencies will also be encouraged to review the penalties they have at their disposal and consider referring negligent contractors for criminal prosecution.
OSHA said in a release Thursday that the enforcement plans are coming in response to a 68% increase in the number of deaths from trenching accidents in the first half of 2022. Twenty-two people died in such accidents in the first half of this year. The total for all of 2021 was 15.
“Every one of these tragedies could have been prevented had employers complied with OSHA standards,” said Doug Parker, assistant secretary for occupational health and safety, in a statement. “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.”
According to some estimates, a single cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds, equal to the weight of a compact car. OSHA’s trenching standards require protective systems to be installed in any trench deeper than 5 feet and that soil and other materials be kept at least 2 feet from the edge of a trench. Additionally, trenches must be inspected, be kept free of standing water and atmospheric hazards and offer a safe means of entrance and exit.