BISMARCK — The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association signed an agreement with multiple North Dakota safety companies on Monday, June 21, to educate and train businesses in an effort to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by trenching and excavation practices.

North Dakota has countless miles of trenches for utilities such as water lines and gas lines. Though trenches are common in North Dakota, the act of digging them is one of the most dangerous construction practices, according to the North Dakota Safety Council, a nonprofit that partnered with OSHA on Monday.

Within the last 10 years, OSHA investigated six trenching-related deaths in North Dakota, said Scott Overson, director of OSHA’s Bismarck office.

OSHA issued almost $745,000 in fines specifically for trenching violations in North Dakota in fiscal year 2020 alone, which is more than double the penalties issued in the previous fiscal year.

“Most trench collapses could have been prevented if there had been proper safety measures put in place,” said Chuck Clairmont, North Dakota Safety Council executive director. “One life lost is too many.”

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Nationwide last year, 21 people were killed as a result of construction trench collapses, according to the North Dakota Safety Council. An average of two trench collapses occur each year in North Dakota.

In 2019, OSHA fined Kamphuis Pipeline Company almost $510,000 for "willful and serious violations of OSHA's trenching and excavation standards" and for repeatedly exposing workers to cave-in hazards, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The company, which operated in the Dakotas, ceased operations, and its owner surrendered his North Dakota contractor license.

Minnesota-based excavation company Wagner Construction Inc. agreed to pay $380,000 earlier this year for exposing workers to hazards after OSHA conducted three job site inspections of its operations in North Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. As part of an agreement with OSHA, Wagner Construction agreed to provide the agency with the addresses for all its 2021 job sites to allow for inspection, and it hired a full-time safety and compliance manager.

The agreement between OSHA and the North Dakota safety and contractor companies signed on Monday aims to train construction workers about best practices with classroom and hands-on training, Clairmont said. Many of the classes are taking place this summer, he said.

“We want people to get home, safely, to their families every single day,” Clairmont said in a statement.

The businesses included in the safe practices agreement are OSHA, the North Dakota Safety Council, Associated Builder and Contractors of Minnesota and North Dakota, Associated General Contractors, Bakken Basin Safety Consortium, Energy Coalition for Contractor Safety, North Dakota One Call and North Dakota Workforce Safety and Insurance.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at