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Advocate for the Safety of Workers During Trench Safety Stand Down Week


Excavation and trenching work are often done on construction sites, and it can be very hazardous work. Trenches are narrow, underground excavations that are deeper than they are wide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines the width as being no more than 15 feet.

In recognition of the inherent dangers of excavation and trenching work, the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA), OSHA, and the North American Excavation Shoring Association, have teamed up to sponsor the fifth annual Trench Safety Stand Down. It is planned for June 15 through 19, 2020. This important event advocates for safety by raising awareness about trenching and excavation dangers. The Stand Down will also promote the use of shielding, shoring, sloping, and other protective systems. Participants can take advantage of free online tools, like fact sheets, checklists, videos, and posters.

What Are the Dangers That Trench Workers Face?

According to the OSHA, one cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, and when trenches collapse, they are rarely survivable. Incidents like this cause hundreds of injuries and dozens of fatalities every year. The greatest threat is cave-ins, which are more likely to cause worker fatalities than other excavation-related accidents. Additional hazards for work-related injuries and fatalities come from mobile equipment, falls at work, hazardous atmospheres, and falling loads.

What is Safety Stand Down Week?

This Safety Stand Down Week is a good opportunity for employers to communicate with their workers and others about the importance of safety. Its mission is to focus on hazards, and highlight the importance of trench protective systems, and explain proper safety techniques. Participants can greatly benefit from learning more about trenching and excavation safety.

Anyone looking to prevent workplace trenching and excavation hazards is invited to the annual Stand Down. The NUCA welcomes safety equipment manufacturers, plumbers, construction workers, unions, military, highway construction workers, and educational institutions to join in.

The NUCA hopes to reach as many trench and excavation employers and workers as possible. Topics will include specific safety procedures and current excavation requirements. Companies can take part by gathering workers for toolbox talks or scheduled meetings during regular workdays. Afterwards, the employers can share feedback with the NUCA who will analyze the data and publicize companies’ names. As past stand downs have been so successful, the NUCA has designated June as their first Trench Safety Month.

How Can You Prepare for the Stand Down?

Companies can sign up for the Trench Safety Stand Down Week on the NUCA website. Users can decide when and where their own events will be held and how long they will last.

Once this is all set up, employers should alert everyone in their company that their attendance is a priority. Employees from all levels of the company can pitch in to help develop programs that will appeal to everyone. Some businesses drum up enthusiasm with e-mail reminders and posters. Additionally, providing lunch or snacks can also increase attendance.

What Are the Participant Guidelines?

To keep things organized, a coordinator can be chosen to manage the process, setting dates and times for events. Different managers can be assigned to different projects during the week; this will show everyone that they are committed to the project.

Anyone else associated with the company’s projects, like owners, engineers, and architects can also be asked to participate. Before the event, presenters can inspect the jobsite, do safety audits, and gather materials to aid in their discussions. Everyone at the Stand Down will also benefit from hands-on presentations. Not only do these help hold interest, they aid in retention; employees are more likely to remember what they are taught if they do it themselves.

Employers can also look over their current trench and excavation policies, procedures, and safety programs. This will help to identify possible hazards and ways to address them in the future. Topics for consideration include ensuring that workers are properly trained, the type and condition of equipment being used, and reviewing company data pertaining to employee injuries, workplace accidents, and fatalities. Other suggestions include going over the company’s goals, expectations, and safety policies.

Following up on Trench Safety Stand Down Week is also important. Any unsafe conditions and work practices should be corrected, and methods for improvement should be carried out. Employees can also be surveyed to gain feedback about the program.

Are Trench Walls Secure?

Although trench walls can appear to be stable, this is not always the case. The OSHA rules specify that every trench job must have a “competent person” appointed to inspect trenches each day before work even starts. They also need to be inspected when conditions change, such as weather. If a hazard is detected, work must stop until the problem is fixed.

Workers must be trained to look for dangers as well. Any materials or equipment near an edge can be dangerous for them. The presence of hazardous gas or standing water are also red flags. Before entering a trench, it is also essential to check that there are safe ways to enter and exit. If the trench is more than four feet deep, workers must be no more than 25 feet away from a stairway, ladder, or exit ramp.

Even if the task is short, workers should never enter uninspected or unprotected trenches. Before entering, the worker should also ensure that there are others nearby in case a problem occurs. There should be no dirt or rocks within two feet of the top of the trench, and all workers should be well-versed in their company’s trench emergency procedures. If there is no policy in place, workers need to contact their human resources departments.

How Can Companies Protect Their Workers?

To keep workers safe, companies must adhere to additional OSHA regulations for trenches. When a trench is five feet deep or more, they need additional protections unless the entire excavation is from stable rock. Companies must also ensure that there are no raised loads above trench workers; they also need to be aware of where any underground utilities in the area are located. The trenches should also be tested for toxic gas, low oxygen, and dangerous fumes.

Protective systems must take into consideration different factors:

  • Climate and weather changes
  • Soil classification
  • Soil water content
  • Depth of the cut
  • Any other work being done in the area
  • Surcharge loads

The latter involves other materials, like spoil that will be in the trench. There are three main kinds of trench protective systems:

  • Shoring: Installation of aluminum hydraulic or another kind of support that will prevent cave-ins and soil movement.
  • Shielding: The use of supports and trench boxes to prevent cave-ins.
  • Sloping: In trenching, slope, also referred to as mainfall, gradient, rise, or pitch, refers to the incline of the walls. For trenches less than 20 feet deep, the slope must be cut back 1.5 times wider than the depth. Trenches that are more than 20 feet deep need protective systems approved or provided by registered engineers.

Why is Trench Safety Crucial?

The OSHA also reports that the fatality rate for excavation work is 112 percent higher than those for general construction. They describe the main hazard of excavation work is cave-ins or collapses and pointed out that a leading cause was a lack of protective systems.

Three thousand pounds of dirt can weigh as much as a small car, and cave-ins can happen within minutes. Any employee who works in trenches and excavation should make sure that their company provides up-to-date OSHA compliant protection.

Employees must recognize that any jobsite with excavation work has potential for serious injuries and fatalities. Companies need to have systems set in place to ensure the safety of workers.

If a workers is injured, it is important to contact an experienced lawyer immediately about filing a Workers’ Compensation claim.

Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Gross & Kenny, LLP Support Trench Safety Stand Down Week

Employees who face hazardous work conditions should stand up for their rights. If you suffer from a work-related injury or illness, do not hesitate to contact one of our trusted Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers at Gross & Kenny, LLP. For a free consultation, complete our online form or call us at 267-589-0090. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.

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