The most hazardous construction operations in New Jersey include excavation and trenching. Excavation involves removing earth to form a manmade depression, cut, cavity or trench. A trench is a specific type of excavation that is no greater than 15 feet in width and deeper than it is wide.

Trenches can cave in and cause death or injury to workers on a construction site. Fortunately, employers and workers can cooperate to prevent collapses and other trenching accidents.

Employer’s responsibilities

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, one of the employer’s most important responsibilities is to designate a competent person to oversee safety measures and to inspect the integrity of the trench. A number of factors can destabilize the trench on a day-to-day basis, so the competent person must perform an inspection every day.

Workers in the trench should never be more than 25 feet away from a ladder or other means of exit. The employer should see to the appropriate repositioning of the ladders as necessary. Additionally, vehicles should maintain a safe distance from the trench.

Workers should receive appropriate training on trench safety. Employers must ensure that no workers under the age of 18 gain entry to the trench.

Workers’ responsibilities

Trenches deeper than five feet require a protective system to prevent collapse. It is the employer’s responsibility to implement the system, but according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it is the workers’ responsibility to avoid entering a trench until the competent person has completed the daily inspection to ensure that the sides are stable and the protective systems in place are adequate.

Workers should stay out from underneath raised loads and keep all heavy equipment away from the edge of the trench. Before working in the trench, it is necessary to test for toxic gases, hazardous fumes and low oxygen. Employers and workers alike should be aware of the location of underground utility cables.