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Trenching and Excavation - Identifying Potential Hazards to Prevent Collapses

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National Campaign to Reduce Trenching and Excavation Accidents

When the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced its priority goals for 2018, reducing trenching and excavation fatalities by 10% was at the very top of the list and not without reason.

Excavation and trench related fatalities in 2016 were nearly double the average of the previous five years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To achieve their goal of substantially reducing these incidents, OSHA plans to increase compliance assistance.

More specifically, they intend to better train inspectors and auditors to identify trench hazards; provide outreach activities and presentations on trenching and excavating; and assist with developing training materials, hazard warnings, and safety alerts.

Danger of Insufficiently Protected Trenches

Even though OSHA, as well as industry associations like the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), have repeatedly made concerted efforts to communicate the imperative nature of approaching trench and excavation operations with extreme caution, fatalities in this area remain climbing.

Workers caught in trench collapses rarely survive because soil can be extremely heavy. A cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, roughly the weight of a small motor vehicle, according to OSHA. That being said, trench deaths and injuries are preventable.

The Employer’s Role in Trench Collapse Preparation

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. This was echoed in a more recent statement by OSHA Birmingham Area Office Director, Ramona Morris, who said “employers are responsible for ensuring their worksites are free of recognized hazards.”

The role of associations such as OSHA or NUCA is to set standards and provide the training, education, and assistance necesary to prevent trench accidents. From there, the responsibility to follow required steps to ensure protective systems are used falls on the employer, which must ensure that all employees are properly trained on training and excavation hazards.

Resources for Achieving Safe Trench Work Practices

To determine if a company has done due diligence to prevent trench collapses and other workplace excavation accidents, OSHA refers to “Guidelines for a Competent Person”, which according to them:

  • Identifies trench hazards

  • Is authorized to make prompt corrective measures to eliminate hazards

  • Is responsible for daily trenching inspections

  • Is knowledgeable about soils, protective systems, and OSHA rules

  • Determines which protective systems to us

If you’d like to learn more about preventing trench collapses and what OSHA considers a "Competent Person", visit osha.gob/SLTC/competentperson for details.

OSHA is also currently encouraging those who engage in trenching and excavation to participate in the National Utility Contractors Association’s (NUCA) 2018 Trench Safety Stand Down, being held June 18–23, 2018.

Post Date: 6/7/2018

© August Mack Environmental, Inc.