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What OSHA rules govern trench safety?

Construction workers and other Minnesota residents who have jobs that require some work to be done in trenches face some serious risks. Trench accidents can happen quickly and cause damaging injuries or even death. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has developed and monitors rules for trench safety on job worksites. If you must work in or around trenches, it is very important for you to understanding what these guidelines are.

A trench is identified as an underground cavity with a maximum width of 15 feet and a depth greater than its width. Cave-ins, failing loads and falls are some of the biggest dangers to workers. OSHA requires that every trench be inspected after any situation which could have affected the integrity of the trench such as rain or other water infiltration. Even without a potential change in the trench quality, an inspection should be done at least once every shift.

Other requirements designed to maintain safety for employees in and around trenches include the following:

  • For any trench over four feet deep, access to and from the trench should be provided.
  • Also for trenches deeper than four feet, toxic hazards in the atmosphere must be tested for.
  • For any trench over five feet deep not in stable rock, a protective system must be utilized.
  • For any trench over 20 feet deep, an engineer or other qualified professional must be involved in the design or installation of the protective system.

Protective systems can be horizontal steps, walls cut at an angle or the installation of special supports.

This information is not intended to provide legal advice but general information about trench safety and OSHA guidelines for workers in Minnesota.


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