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Getting Educated on Construction and Trenching Safety Can Protect Clients

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In April 2017, the Atlantic Drain Service Co. was cited for 18 violations when a 12-foot-deep trench collapsed, killing two workers after breaking an adjacent fire hydrant supply line and filling the trench with water in a matter of seconds.1 From this unfortunate instance, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) found that the employer did not provide safety training and basic safeguards for employees.

Seeing a client in the news for a horrible situation such as this is something that no broker or agent wants. Insurance Market Source connected with construction and trenching safety expert Anthony Costello, Loss Control Specialist of Worker’s Compensation at Afirma premier provider of premium audits, inspections and risk solutions, to provide in-depth knowledge to brokers and agents.

Inspections are necessary

OSHA reported that 21.4 percent of work-related fatalities occurred in the construction industry in 2015.2 To help reduce this number, the appropriate inspections need to take place.

“A proper loss control inspection needs to occur before any Worker’s Compensation or General Liability policy can be issued or renewed for construction and trenching clients,” said Costello.

Trenches can be defined as any digging that breaks soil and is deeper than it is wide.

Costello added, “For clients that do a large amount of trenching and excavation work there are a number of items we ensure that brokers’ clients are doing, starting with soil tests.”

The dirt on soil

According to Costello, knowing the soil type and planning for that is the single most important part of construction and trenching safety. There are four types of soil – stable rock, Type A, Type B, and Type C3 – ranging from the strongest to the most unstable, respectively.

To know what soil type the construction company is working with, a trained inspector can use a variety of visual and manual tests. Then, based on soil strength, there are different levels of protective systems that can be put in place to keep workers safe in a trench.

“Worker’s Compensation claims are less likely to happen to clients who have the proper controls in place,” said Costello. “Trenches with depths greater than five feet need to follow safety guidelines set by OSHA.”

Preventing cave-ins

“Sloping and benching will prevent a cave in,” said Costello.

For every one foot of depth, clients should slope one and a half feet back for Class C soil, one foot back for Class B soil, and three-quarters of a foot back for Class A soil, explained Costello. Without the correct slope, the hazard of a cave-in increases greatly. And, if an accident occurs, OSHA will be out to launch a formal investigation.

Trench boxes are also used to protect a construction worker in the event of a cave-in. A worker inside a trench box would not be exposed to the hazard as metal walls are shielding them.

This past May, a South Dakota company failed to use a trench protective system and unfortunately a 34-year-old-worker was buried.4 Regular site inspections would have prevented such a collapse.

“Far too many times, I have seen workers in unprotected trenches on a loss control inspection,” said Costello. “It is difficult to witness a worker operating outside of a trench box – making the proper training imperative.”

Liability issues

Falls account for more than 38 percent of work-related deaths on construction sites.2

“Construction sites are riddled with fall hazards, especially in trenching and excavation,” said Costello. Simple safety measures, such as warning lines, ‘do-not-enter’ signage, and barricades should be used to alert the public and site employees.

In Spring Township, Pennsylvania, a man that was jogging on a stretch of closed road fell into a pipeline construction trench that was 15 feet deep.5 Even with the proper barricades, falls like this can happen in an instant.

Brokers and agents that take the time to educate themselves on deeper issues that can affect their clients’ insurance policies will only prove to be a stronger partner. Inquiring on the proper OSHA training for trench workers and making sure clients have a competent person inspect the construction site daily is key.

Costello adds, “It is in the best interest of a broker to understand as much about the inspection process as possible to prepare, safeguard, and ensure the long-term insurability of their client.”

For brokers and agents looking to be educated further on trenching and excavation safety measures, visit


  1. OSHA News Release
  2. OSHA statistics
  3. Murray State University
  4. Insurance Journal
  5. Reading Eagle

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