By Betsey Kulakowski, CSHO, COSS

As the former Assistant Director of PEOSH (public sector enforcement) for the Oklahoma Department of Labor, I was involved in way too many fatality investigations. The last investigation I did before I came to the Oklahoma Safety Council, was a trench collapse. The worker was successfully rescued but died at the hospital. This is a case that continues to linger with me. It was entirely preventable. They all are. Unfortunately, while most employers – and employees – recognize the hazards, too many of them think ‘it can’t happen to me’. But it can and it does all the time.  Sometimes the rescue efforts are successful, but all too often, they are not.

Since October 1, 2022, 24 workers fell victim to the deadly hazards present in trenching and excavations – surpassing 15 in all of 2021 – and prompting the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to launch enhanced enforcement initiatives to protect workers from known industry hazards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is calling on all employers engaged in trenching and excavation activities to act immediately to ensure that required protections are fully in place every single time their employees step down into or work near a trench,” says Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “In a matter of seconds, workers can be crushed and buried under thousands of pounds of soil and rocks in an unsafe trench. The alarming increase in the number of workers needlessly dying and suffering serious injuries in trenching incidents must be stopped.

In support of OSHA’s National Emphasis Program for excavations, the Oklahoma Safety Council is hosting a half-day Excavation & Trenching Safety Stand Down as part of our recognition of National Safety Month. This event is also part of our ongoing partnership with OSHA, the Oklahoma Department of Labor, and the Oklahoma City Chapter of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP).  Join us for this half-day educational event. It’s free, but registration is required! Lunch will be provided by the OKC-ASSP, so make plans now to attend.

At this year’s Workers Memorial Day, we were reminded of our duty as safety professionals, risk managers and employers, to continue working for a world where there are no empty seats at the dinner table, and where all workers are provided a safe and healthful workplace.  This is a mission that keeps me inspired and drives our efforts here at the Oklahoma Safety Council. I hope you will make it your mission, too.