What’s Wrong With this Picture?

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Photographs are a learning tool of how accidents can be prevented. Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture?


  • Employees could enter a trench that exceeded five feet in depth that had not been sloped nor provided cave-in protection.
  • A ladder or other means of egress was not provided to employees.
  • The employee was not wearing head protection and was potentially exposed to falling material.
  • Due to machinery in operation nearby and this job site being located on a major intersection, there was a possibility that the trench could have contained a hazardous atmosphere.
  • Due to the amount of identified and potential hazards, it appears that the contractor did not have a competent person.

Applicable Standards:

1926.652(a)(1) Each employee in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by an adequate protective system designed in accordance with paragraph (b) or (c) of this section except when:

Excavations are made entirely in stable rock; or 1926.652(a)(1)(i)

Excavations are less than 5 feet (1.52m) in depth and examination of the ground by a competent person provides no indication of a potential cave-in. 1926.652(a)(1)(ii)

1926.651(c)(2) Means of egress from trench excavations. A stairway, ladder, ramp or other safe means of egress shall be located in trench excavations that are 4 feet or more in depth so as to require no more than 25 feet of lateral travel for employees.

1926.651(g)(1)(i) Where oxygen deficiency (atmospheres containing less than 19.5 percent oxygen) or a hazardous atmosphere exists or could reasonably be expected to exist, such as in excavations in landfill areas or excavations in areas where hazardous substances are stored nearby, the atmospheres in the excavation shall be tested before employees enter excavations greater than 4 feet (1.22 m) in depth.

1926.651(k)(1) Daily inspections of excavations, the adjacent areas, and protective systems shall be made by a competent person for evidence of a situation that could result in possible cave-ins, indications of failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, or other hazardous conditions. An inspection shall be conducted by the competent person prior to the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. Inspections shall also be made after every rainstorm or other hazard increasing occurrence. These inspections are only required when employee exposure can be reasonably anticipated.

1926.651(k)(2) Where the competent person finds evidence of a situation that could result in a possible cave-in, indications of failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, or other hazardous conditions, exposed employees shall be removed from the hazardous area until the necessary precautions have been taken to ensure their safety.

1926.100(a) Employees working in areas where there is a possible danger of head injury from impact, or from falling or flying objects, or from electrical shock and burns, shall be protected by protective helmets.


Sprain, strains, fractures, laceration, contusions, concussions, or even death as a result of being struck by or engulfed by falling material.

Corrective Actions:

  • Remove the employee from the trench, train them on the hazards related to trenches and excavations.
  • Have a competent person on-site to inspect the trench/excavation at the beginning of each shift, after rainstorms or as needed throughout the shift.
  • Flag off or otherwise prevent entry into the trench, until it has been inspected by a competent person and provided cave-in protection or has been appropriately sloped.
  • Require the use of PPE when necessary.

The following links will provide additional information regarding trenching and excavation: