Construction trenches are hostile environments

WorkSafe has warned employers and workers in the construction and utilities industries not to be complacent about trench safety.
News article published

Friday 01 Apr 2011

Industries and topics
  • Construction
  • Excavating and trenching

It follows an incident where a worker suffered serious injuries after being partially buried in a trench, when a two-tonne section of the trench wall collapsed on to him at Cranbourne, on Tuesday 28 March.

The 45-year-old worker was in a five-metre deep trench for drainage at a Cameron Rd retirement village site and was trapped for about five minutes while workmates dug him out leaving him with significant chest, back and abdominal injuries.

WorkSafe issued a safety improvement notice requiring a safe work method statement for trench work to be updated.

WorkSafe’s Construction and Utilities Director, Allan Beacom said it was only luck that this worker survived.

“WorkSafe is concerned, that industry may have become complacent on the dangers after not having a fatal trench collapse in more than a decade,” he said.

“Trench collapses can break limbs, engulf and asphyxiate or bury workers or cause crushing injuries. This is a hostile environment which must be treated with the utmost respect. 

“The control measures to prevent these types of incidents are well known and must be used by everyone,” Mr Beacom said.

Safe trench safety check:

  • If workers must enter any trench and there is a risk of engulfment, ground support must be provided and left in place while the risk remains.
  • If the ground support is progressively being installed, workers must never work in areas where the support is not provided.
  • Principal and sub-contractors and workers need to be proactive when it comes to trench safety and get back to basics.
  • Plan the work so it can be done safely; ensure workers are instructed, trained and applying safe work practices and monitor the work to ensure it is being done safely.
  • Anyone seeing someone doing something risky must speak up.