Death by Trench

Death by Trench
Photo by David Dow, TrenchSafety and Supply

When it comes to construction fatalities, trench deaths can be easy to overlook. The number of deaths – 49 in the 2016 to 2017 time period – falls far below the top four culprits of construction deaths: falls, electrocution, struck by object and caught-in/between.

But trench fatalities usually mean prolonged efforts to recover a victim, exacerbating the experience for co-workers and family. They require advanced expertise by first responders. Many times, even partially buried victims don’t survive. And they deal a staggering loss to families and to crews that sometimes have worked together for years.

Then there’s the cost. OSHA fines are just the beginning. A trench death stops work, increases workers’ compensation costs, hikes your insurance premiums and makes you ineligible to work for certain owners. And all of that is before the legal fees.
Most frustrating of all: every death could have been prevented by using methods that have been known for decades.

In preparing this report, the editors of Equipment World wanted to examine the human side of the trench fatality statistics. We talked to survivors, co-workers, victims’ families and first responders. We heard from victims’ advocates and lawyers. We asked trench protection experts and contractors for best practices.

These deaths delivered immeasurable loss. They all began with the decision that a trench didn’t require worker protection.