Reverse the recent trend of fatal trench cave-ins across the construction industry
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, www.osha.ogv) is implementing education programs, enforcement processes, and compliance resources to help reverse the recent trend of fatal trench cave-ins across the construction industry and built environment.
Trenching cave-in fatalities on construction sites doubled from 2015 to 2016
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) reports that trenching cave-in fatalities on construction sites increased from 18 deaths in 2015 to 33 deaths in 2016 — about doubling in one year! Further, The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR, www.cpwr.com) reports at least at least 21 trenching cave-in fatalities in 2017.
OSHA compliance information to general contractors
The new initiative on trenching safety is starting with outreach. Both OSHA area offices and OSHA regional offices are providing compliance information to general contractors, construction managers, specialty contractors, industry associations, permit agencies and other stakeholders, as a part of the trenching safety education programs.
Safety factors such as soil, water and weather to perform the work safely
OSHA 2226-10R 2015 Trenching and Excavation Safety recommends that contractors consider numerous interrelated safety factors such as soil classification, surface and ground water, location of the water table, and weather when bidding on a job, in order to perform the work safely and in compliance with OSHA standards.
Designing a protective system requires consideration of weather and climate
To protect workers from trenching cave-ins and subsequent fatalities, OSHA 2226-10R 2015 Trenching and Excavation Safety also explains how designing a protective system requires consideration of many factors, including: soil classiﬁcation, depth of cut, water content of soil, weather and climate, and other operations.
Water accumulation from rain events impact excavation safety
Further, water accumulation from precipitation events — both low intensity and high intensity rain events and other precipitation events impact excavation safety. Accordingly, employers need to protect employees from water-related excavation hazards, as a result of water from weather events in an excavation.
OSHA standards prohibit workers to enter an excavation with water
“Water in an excavation can undermine the sides of the excavation and make it more difficult for workers to get out of the excavation… OSHA standards prohibit employers from allowing workers to enter an excavation where water has accumulated or is accumulating — unless adequate precautions are taken to protect workers.”
Water removal equipment to control or prevent water accumulation
Precautions include “…support or shield systems to prevent cave-ins, water removal to control the water level, or the use of a safety harness and lifeline. If an employer uses water removal equipment to control or prevent water accumulation, the equipment and operations must be monitored by a competent person to ensure proper use.”
Competent person: capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards
“What is a competent person? A “competent person” is an individual, designated by the employer, who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to workers, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”
Inspect excavations subject to runoffs from rain events
A “competent person” must inspect excavations subject to runoffs from rain events. Also, if the “…excavation work interrupts the natural drainage, OSHA standards require the use of diversion ditches or other suitable means to prevent surface water from entering the excavation and to provide adequate drainage of the adjacent area.”
Monitor water removal equipment and conduct site inspections
Under the OSHA 2226-10R 2015 Trenching and Excavation Safety standards, the competent person performs the following tasks to identify existing and predictable hazards: classify soil; inspect protective systems; design structural ramps; monitor water removal equipment; and, conduct site inspections.
Inspect trenches at the start of each shift, following a rainstorm and after any occurrence
In conclusion, OSHA 2226-10R 2015 Trenching and Excavation Safety recommends that employers “…need to emphasize specific practices that will help reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries at excavation sites.” Specific practices to mitigate the risk of trenching cave-ins include a series of inspections in order to keep the jobsite safe:
- Inspect trenches at the start of each shift.
- Inspect trenches following a rainstorm or other water intrusion.
- Inspect trenches after any occurrence that could have changed conditions in the trench.
(Image source: OSHA 2226-10R 2015 Trenching and Excavation Safety.” Occupational Safety and Health, www.osha.gov/Publications/osha2226.pdf.)
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