Deadly Incidents Lead Ga.’s ASSE to Launch Excavation Accident Prevention Program

November 17, 2004

With construction trenching accidents reportedly claiming many lives in Georgia as well as across the country, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Georgia chapter and the Region 4 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently formed an Alliance aimed at preventing these accidents. The first meeting will be held this Thursday, Nov. 18.

Known as the Excavation Safety Task Force the group will provide trench safety best practices material, standards, and key resource information to construction contractors, employers involved in trenching and excavation operations, and the general public. The task force will meet at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) Safety Office in the Annex Building at 2400 Piedmont Road, N.E., Atlanta.

“Excavation work is basically the entire man-made process of moving earth, a heavy nonhomogeneous material, with dramatically variable engineering properties that can be controlled but not sculpted to a permanent form, for the purpose of making improvements to the land,” ASSE Georgia Chapter Construction Safety and Task Force Chairman John Moore said. “Excavation work includes digging for the placement of concrete footings and walls, to the ultimate backfilling against them. The mission of our task force is to reduce excavation fatalities in Georgia through educational outreach and increased awareness.”

Excavation work also includes cutting and filling sections of embankments for a roadway, bridge, or dam and is generally involved with the installation of underground utilities and tanks along with some types of soil stabilization methods. The hazards of excavating, like the different types of excavation work, reportedly vary greatly.

“Injuries to people and property occur too often when safe work practices and procedures are not followed or ignored,” Moore noted. “For example, workers can be crushed, suffocated, struck by falling objects or overhead loads, hit by vehicles and hurt by equipment mishaps, be exposed to falls, electrocution, drowning, and respiratory hazards.

“If safety procedures are not followed, think of the consequences — such as a person dying alone in darkness while buried in a trench surrounded by mud, dirt, water, and muffled sounds. A single cubic yard of dirt weighs between 3000 and 4000 pounds. Then consider the fatal blood clots that can be released once the pressure of dirt is removed from a partially buried victim, ” Moore said.

As for costs, according to ASSE member Michael Hayslip, in his section titled Excavation, Trenching, and Shoring in the ASSE book Construction Safety Management and Engineering, “When money is paid for trenching accidents costs out of bottom-line net profits, typically ranging from two to eight percent of sales, a single trenching incident with $1650 in direct costs can equate to an additional $125,000-$500,000 in sales required to simply break even.”

Hayslip added, “How many single-incident direct costs are held to only $1650 (direct wages, work transition, rehabilitation, etc.)? Do unsafe contractors with lower bids actually represent a savings when the day is done?”

According to Georgia officials, there were 98 trench accidents in the state within the last year, and five resulted in fatalities. To address this, new legislation aimed at strengthening the utility contractor licensing laws (House bill 1300) was passed.

The new OSHA/ASSE Excavation Safety Task Force will address this. The Thursday task force meeting is an orientation meeting for those who would like to participate. Information on the task force, including a membership application, the OSHA commitment letter, OSHA’s 1926 Subpart P Excavation Standard, compliance directives, Federal Registers and Standard Interpretations, a diagram with common excavation best practices in both English and Spanish and more can be found on the ASSE Georgia Chapter’s Web site at under Excavation Safety Task Force.

For more information on the task force go to

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