Fatal Facts Accident Report 61
(Taken From Job Safety and Health Quarterly Vol. 12 No. 3 Spring 2001)

OSHA Office of Construction & Engineering


Accident Type
Trench Collapse
Type of Operation
Excavation Work
Crew Size
Competent Safety Monitor on Site?
Safety and Health Program in Effect?
Training and Education Provided?
Employee Job Title
Experience at this Type of Work
6 months
Time on Project
2 days

Man caugt in trench


An employee was working in a trench 4 feet wide and 7 feet deep. About 30 feet away a backhoe was straddling the trench when the backhoe operator noticed a large chunk of dirt falling from the side wall behind the worker in the trench, he called out a warning. Before the worker could climb out, 6 to 8 feet of the trench wall had collapsed on him and covered his body up to his neck. He suffocated before the backhoe operator could dig him out. There were no exit ladders. No sloping or shoring had been used in the trench.


As a result of its investigation, OSHA issued citations alleging three serious violations. OSHA's construction standards include several requirements which, if they had been followed here, might have prevented this fatality.


  1. The employer did not instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to the work environment to control or eliminate any hazard or other exposure to illness or injury [29 CFR 1926.21(b)(2)]
  2. The employer should not allow work in trenches where the sides were not shored or otherwise supported when the trench is 5 feet or deeper and 8 feet or longer [new standard 29 CFR 1926.652(a)].
  3. The employer allowed workers in trenches more than 4 feet deep without adequate means of exit, such as a ladder or steps [new standard 29 CFR 1926.651(c)(2)].


  • Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1926 -- 0SHA construction standards. Revised 7/1/92. Stock number 869-017-00122-1 ($14). Available from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402-9325, phone 202/783-3238. For phone orders you may use a GPO deposit account, Visa, MasterCard or checks made payable to Superintendent of Documents.
  • For Information on OSHA-funded free consultation services call the nearest OSHA area office listed in telephone directories under U.S. Labor Department or under the state government section in states administering their own OSHA programs.
  • OSHA Safety and Health Training Guidelines for Construction (Available from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161; phone 703/487-4650; Order No. PB-239-312/AS) $19, to help construction employers establish a training program.
  • Courses in construction safety are offered by the OSHA Training Institute, 1555 Times Drive, Des Plaines, IL 60018, (phone 708/297-4810).

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