Recently, OSHA launched “enhanced nationwide enforcement initiatives” and outreach efforts to protect workers from known hazards related to trenches and excavations. This is in response to an “alarming rise” in trench-related deaths during the first half of 2022. According to an OSHA National News Release published on July 14th, 22 trench related deaths had been reported for the first six months of the year. This surpassed 15 for all of 2021. As part of OSHA’s emphasis on additional oversight and enhanced enforcement, the number of trench inspections conducted by OSHA compliance officers is expected to increase over the coming months, with an estimated 1,000 inspections to be performed throughout the country.

Here at ATL, we are often working in and around trenches and excavations while collecting samples and performing various testing services. To raise hazard awareness, a safety bulletin was recently sent out to all employees, to highlight ways to stay safe when working in or around trenches and excavations, with emphasis on the following points:

  • Cave-ins are the greatest risk when working in trenches or excavations
  • Protection systems including shoring, sloping, or benching, and shielding with trench boxes are required for excavations 5-ft. or greater
    – If using shielding – excavation of material shall be no greater than 2 feet below bottom of shield
    – 18 inches is minimum height of shield above the top of the vertical side of the excavation
  • Egress (usually extension ladders) is required every 25 feet for trenches 4-ft. deep or greater
  • Trenches should be clear of standing water and atmospheric hazards
  • All material (excavated soil spoils), equipment and vehicles are required to be kept at least 2 feet from edge of trench
  • Documented daily inspections are required by a competent person before work starts and when conditions change
  • Trenches 20 feet or more in-depth must be designed by a registered professional engineer
  • If you feel unsafe or the trench has not been inspected – DO NOT ENTER

For additional information and resources, see the OSHA links below covering topics on excavation and trenching hazards, solutions, and enforcement initiatives:

Alarming rise in trench-related fatalities spurs US Department of Labor to announce enhanced nationwide enforcement, additional oversight | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (

Trenching and Excavation – Overview | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (