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Chapter 7: Rights and Responsibilities

We have discussed the various hazards associated with excavations. We also have discussed some of the protective measures that should be taken when working around excavations and trenches.

It is one thing to know what makes a safe work site. It is quite another to assure that workplace conditions are safe and that the requirements of the law and the recommendations in this workbook are followed.

Remember, you are the one going into the excavation or trench. Don’t take chances-check out for yourself the equipment being used, including shoring materials and the ladder used for getting in out of the trench. Check the location of the spoil pile and what equipment is near the excavation. Protect your health and safety by following the safe work practices mentioned in this workbook.

What should you do when you face a safety problem? Remember, the competent person at the excavation site has the responsibility to ensure that workers are adequately protected. If you have any questions or concerns about the excavation, its protection, or the nearby surroundings, always check with the competent person before you go into an excavation . Many times the competent person is also the supervisor on site. However, if this is not the case, the next step is to go to your supervisor if you still have safety concerns, and ask him/her to correct them. If this doesn’t work, (and you are represented by a union), contact your union steward. He or she can:

  • Try to get the situation corrected through informal discussions with management; 
    File an grievance; 

  • If represented by AFSCME, the steward can request assistance through their local union president or Council Staff Representative. Your local union leadership or council staff representative may also know if the problem is being worked on, or if other locals are having similar problems. The Council Staff Representative may also contact the International Union in Washington, DC to request information and technical assistance; 

  • Contact OSHA. If you are a public employee, you are only covered by OSHA if your states has a federally approved OSHA Plan. Some states also have non-federally approved public employee laws that may also provide protection. Private sector employees may file an OSHA complaint with either federal or sate OSHA, depending on who has jurisdiction in your area.

No worker should have to chose between their life and their job. As a last resort, if you believe you are in a life-threatening situation, refuse to work in an unsafe trench or excavation. Before refusing to do the work, you must try in good faith to fix the situation by contacting your supervisor and management. Immediately tell your supervisor that you believe there is a imminently dangerous situation. If not remedied immediately, offer to do other work instead. You should also immediately contact the union. But never leave the work site until the supervisor tells you to go home.


You can protect your health and safety on the job by following safe work procedures and by communicating with your supervisor, management, and your union. If necessary, you can file grievances and use federal and state laws. As a last resort, you can refuse work that puts your life in danger.

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