Excavation is one of the most hazardous types of work done in the construction industry. Excavation accidents occur frequently and tend to be more serious than construction accidents in general.
The primary type of accident of concern in excavation related work is a cave-in. The actual number of cave-in accidents is not large when compared to the total number of accidents occurring in all of construction. However, those that do occur tend to be of a very serious nature.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts research on various safety and health problems, provides technical assistance to OSHA, and recommends standards for OSHA's adoption.
In a recent report prepared by NIOSH, based on OSHA's inspection data, it was estimated that at least 73 persons were killed each year in cave-in accidents and at least 97 persons were killed as a result of all excavation-related accidents.
OSHA has many requirements for protection of employees in excavations. OSHA's excavation standard is contained in its Code of Federal Regulations for the Construction Industry, 29 CFR, Part 1926. The standards found in subpart P consist of three sections: Section 1926-650 contains the scope, application, and definitions applicable to subpart P; Section 1926-651 contains general requirements, and Section 1926-652 contains requirements for protective systems. There are also six appendices: A through F.
OSHA's excavation standard defines excavations to include trenches. The standard states that, in general, that the depth of the trench is greater than the width, but the width of the trench measured at the bottom is not greater than 15 feet. OSHA standard 29CFR, 1926-651 contains requirements for the protection of employees against several different types of hazards of excavation-related work.
Strict adherence to OSHA's requirements for protection of employees in excavations regulations can substantially reduce the number and severity of accidents resulting from excavation work. If you would like more information about OSHA or about how to comply with OSHA excavation regulations, contact your nearest OSHA area office.