Taking Trench Safety Seriously

United Rentals is committed to helping turn the tide of trench fatalities.

By Blake Smith

Earlier this year the Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program issued a hazard alert after a spate of deaths from trench collapses in that state. As an advocate for safety training around the country, I’m passionate about making construction safer, especially for people doing dangerous trench work..

Keeping our customers in the trenches safe is something that, as an industry, we must do better a better job with.  This call to action for excavation safety awareness is urgent — trench deaths have continued to increase rather than decrease

Part of the answer lies in education and training. The FACE alert includes reminders about best practices such as having a competent person on an excavation and trench project with stop work authority, knowledge of the general requirements and hazard awareness to conduct daily inspections. Aside from having training and knowledge, a competent person must have experience in soils analysis and protective system solutions. Whenever workers are in a trench or excavation deeper than 5 feet or anything less 5’ is considered to be unsafe, a competent person must make a choice to slope, bench, shield or shore the face of the trench walls to prevent a cave-in.

Projects are becoming more complex and the expectations are so much bigger now that the safety elements like procedures, inspections and the right PPE has to fit into that new complicated scope which can sometimes be challenging. In fact, OSHA statistics for trench collapses indicate the 76 percent of trench fatalities occurred when no protective system was used.

RELATED: Essential Trench Safety Tips

Another part of the answer lies in companies dedicating the time and money required to keep construction workers safe — and maintaining up-to-date training on safety regulations and equipment solutions. Too often, workers doing this type of underground work think an accident won’t happen to them. But in those circumstances where a worker encounters a life-changing injury or fatality, the cost goes beyond citations, fines and court settlements. In the end, families are left with the burden to move forward with their loss to cope beyond their loved one’s injury or death.

At United Rentals, we recognize the importance of jobsite safety, and we have dedicated resources like United Academy to manage worker training certifications and a fulltime training department to lead quality training programs for worker safety within OSHA and OH&S requirements. The challenges of jobsite safety and productivity are something contractors face every day. When they can depend on a resource that offers quality safety training along with support outside the classroom — like jobsite consultation, engineered designs and safety equipment — it truly supports the contractor’s capability to maintain worker safety while gaining project productivity.

With more than 80 trench safety branches and the largest fleet of shoring and underground excavation rental equipment in North America, United Rentals can help you find the right solution for your excavation needs. United Rentals is also the largest provider of trench safety training programs. Training is available online, onsite or at one of our store locations.


Blake Smith is a sales and marketing director at United Rentals and a former region product development manager for trench safety.