Today’s toolbox talk topic is focused on trench collapse. Trench collapses are rarely survivable, according to OSHA. Just one cubic yard of soil, which weighs up to 3,000 pounds, can crush a trapped worker’s body. 72 % of trench fatalities occur in trenches less than 9 feet deep.

If the worker survives long enough to be rescued, though, the effects of the accident may still cause death. The weight of the dirt squeezes the body so tightly, circulation is impossible, and tissues begin to die because of the resulting lack of oxygen. They release chemicals such as potassium as they are destroyed, but because there is no circulation, the body is not poisoned. Once the blood begins to move through the system again, though, organ failure is imminent. 

Do not enter an excavation:

  • That is not properly shored or braced.
  • Where any load, material, machinery, or equipment from being placed or moved near the edge of an excavation.
  • That has few exit/access points – The access point should not be more than six meters away from where any worker is located inside the excavation.
  • Don’t work alone in an excavation.

When a trench collapse happens:

  • Call emergency services.
  • Stay calm until a trained team arrives.
  • Safely evacuate everyone who is not trapped in the trench and account for all workers.
  • Keep all non-rescue personnel at least 100 feet away from the trench or excavation.
  • Turn off all equipment, except for water pumps near the cave-in area.
  • Redirect or stop traffic that could cause vibrations leading to another cave-in.
  • Avoid using backhoes or excavators to dig out the victim, as it may cause further harm.
  • Leave the victim’s tools or equipment in place as they can help locate them.

There may be a very strong temptation to jump down into the trench and try to dig the victim out. Do not do it. Untrained or ill-equipped rescuers frequently become victims themselves from secondary cave-ins.

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