Excavations Can Equal Graves

Here is a morbid anxiety that sometimes can kick in on a construction site:

Fear of being buried alive
Fear of being placed in a grave while still alive as a result of being incorrectly pronounced dead. The abnormal, psychopathological version of this fear is referred to as taphophobia (from Greek taphos, meaning "grave"), which is translated as "fear of graves.”

Every day equipment opens up the earth and untold thousands step into trenches, foundations and holes. Although their tasks may vary widely once in these excavations, workers are exposed to the same risk—accidental burial by soil collapse. With that in mind, the fear of being buried alive can be considered a survival instinct.

To meet minimum federal standards, there are numerous steps employers must take when trenching or excavating. They include but are not limited to:

  • Having a competent person onsite at all times
  • Conducting a soil classification to determine its stability and the corresponding protective system needed
  • Sloping or benching (forming a series of horizontal steps) per the type of soil
  • Providing stairways, ladders or ramps for entry and exit
  • Removing water accumulation
  • Testing air quality for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases

If you are asking yourself: "I wonder if we are doing all these steps," then it's time to go to the source, which is the OSHA Standards for the Construction Industry, specifically, 29 CFR part 1926, subpart P.

This section will give you the needed guidance to protect your employees in one of construction’s more hazardous exposures. OSHA reports the fatality rate for excavation is 112% higher than the rate for general construction.

Also visit OSHA’s Construction Etool on trenching and excavating regulations.