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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that 271 workers died in trenching or excavation cave-ins from 2000 through 2006. A review of multiple national databases by NIOSH researchers found that trenching and excavation hazards during construction activities resulted in 488 deaths between 1992 and 2000 - an average of 54 fatalities each year. Sixty-eight percent of those fatalities occurred in companies with fewer than 50 workers. Forty-six percent of the deaths occurred in small companies with 10 or fewer workers. Hazards associated with trench work and excavation are recognized and preventable, yet injuries and fatalities associated with these hazards continue to occur. Regulations and consensus standards describe engineering controls, protective equipment, and safe work practices to minimize hazards for workers during trench work and excavations.


Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-ins
Workers are at risk of death from cave-ins during trenching and excavation activities. NIOSH recommends engineering controls, protective equipment, and safe work practices to minimize hazards for workers.
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2011-180



NIOSHTIC-2 search results on Trenching and Excavation
NIOSHTIC-2 is a searchable bibliographic database of occupational safety and health publications, documents, grant reports, and journal articles supported in whole or in part by NIOSH.

NIOSH Publications

Preventing Worker Deaths from Trench Cave-ins
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2011-180
Workers are at risk of death from cave-ins during trenching and excavation activities. NIOSH recommends engineering controls, protective equipment, and safe work practices to minimize hazards for workers.

Preventing Injuries When Working with Hydraulic Excavators and Backhoe Loaders
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-107
En Español
Workers who operate or work near hydraulic excavators and backhoe loaders are at risk of being struck by the machine or its components or by excavator buckets that detach from the excavator stick. NIOSH recommends that injuries and deaths be prevented through training, proper installation and maintenance, work practices, and personal protective equipment.

Trench Safety Awareness Web-based training
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2006-133D
This Web-based training exercise contains material on conducting a safe trenching operation. Topics include the four types of trench collapse, the frequency and cost of trench collapses, trench soil types, and common trench protective systems.

Occupational Fatalities During Trenching and Excavation Work – United States, 1992–2001
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: April 23, 2004 / 53(15);311-314
Summary analysis of occupational fatality records and investigative reports which indicate 76% of trenching and excavation deaths were caused by cave-ins and 47% of deaths occur among employees of companies with <10 workers.

Preventing Deaths and Injuries From Excavation Cave-Ins: NIOSH Alert
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 85-110
Presents four case studies of worker deaths in trench cave-ins, as well as recommended work practices, overview of standards, more...

NIOSH Update: Trench Cave-ins
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 93-110
Briefly describes worker deaths from trench cave-ins and provides recommendations for prevention. Summary of NIOSH Alert 85-110.

Development of Draft Construction Safety Standards for Excavations
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 83-103 (Volumes I & II)

FACE Reports

The NIOSH Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program is designed to identify and study fatal occupational injuries. The goal of the FACE program is to prevent occupational fatalities across the nation by identifying and investigating work situations at high risk for injury and then formulating prevention strategies to those who can intervene in the workplace.

Hispanic laborer dies as a result of a trench collapse - Michigan - FACE-06MI174

29-year old male Hispanic landscape laborer dies when nine foot deep trench collapses - Michigan - FACE-06MI004

A plumber died when the trench he was working in collapsed around him - California - FACE-05CA002

Equipment operator killed when pinned to a tee by an excavator - New York - FACE-06NY010

38 year-old construction laborer dies when trench walls collapse - Kentucky - FACE-03KY107

Excavation worker killed by flying rigging when hook fails - Oregon - FACE-05OR024

Two Hispanic construction laborers (ages fifteen and sixteen) die after trench collapse - South Carolina - South Carolina - FACE-2003-07

Other Resources

eLCOSH Trenches and Excavations Safety Checklist [PDF - 65 KB]

OSHA Safety and Health Topic: Trenching and Excavation

OSHA Construction eTool: Trenching and Excavation

OSHA Standards for Excavation
Excavations are defined to include trenches.

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  • Page last reviewed: December 30, 2013
  • Page last updated: December 30, 2013 The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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