Trench Safety Stand Down Week

Posted on

In an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of trenching and excavation, and encourage the use of potentially life-saving protective systems, such as sloping, shoring, and shielding, the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) is partnering with the North American Excavation Shoring Association (NAXSA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to urge employers to participate in the fifth annual Trench Safety Stand Down week, which is scheduled June 15 to 19. This gives employers the opportunity to talk directly to employees about important safety issues, including dangerous trench-related hazards and the steps workers can take to avoid them, as well as the importance of making safety a top priority at all times.

According to data from OSHA, 17 trench workers died in trench accidents in 2018. One cubic yard of soil weighs up to 3,000 pounds. That is about the weight of an average midsized car. Even if a worker’s head and arms are above the dirt, the weight of the soil is so heavy that it can crush the worker, causing death within minutes. If a trench collapses, it is nearly impossible to rescue workers in time to save them.

How Should Employers Prepare for Trench Safety Stand Down?

Any employer who wishes to improve the safety conditions at trench sites and prevent trenching and excavation hazards can participate in the stand down. This includes utility construction, residential, highway construction, plumbers, military, unions, associations, educational institutes, and safety manufacturers. In order the have a successful Trench Safety Stand Down Week, NUCA and NAXSA urge employers to take the following steps:

  • Choose an employee to be the program coordinator and assign managers to specific projects throughout the week to ensure that all employees participate in stand down activities.
  • Encourage subcontractors, engineers, owners, and other individuals associated with the trench projects to participate in the Trench Safety Stand Down Week.
  • Review the company’s current safety program to identify potential hazards, improvements that can be made, training protocols that can be revised, and whether there is better equipment available.
  • Plan when the Stand Down activities will take place and make a company-wide announcement so managers can plan for it.
  • Develop presentations that meet the specific needs of the company and its employees and encourage all employees to voice concerns and offer suggestions.
  • Promote the stand down by distributing flyers and informing job sites about the event.
  • Urge trench crews to audit their work sites and identify specific hazards prior to the stand down.
  • Follow up on some of the key issues discussed and make the necessary changes.

What are Common Trench and Excavation Safety Issues?

When a trench collapses while workers are still working, it can cause devastating injuries and fatalities. Each year, an average of 24 workers are killed in trench collapse accidents, and hundreds more suffer severe injuries that have lasting physical and emotional scars. The following are main safety issues associated with working in trenches or tunnels:

  • Falls: When the appropriate safety signage is not present near trench sites, it can create a serious fall hazard.
  • Cave-ins: These accidents are particularly devastating, as workers can be crushed by thousands of pounds of dirt.
  • Asphyxiation: If there is inadequate ventilation in the trench, and workers do not have the appropriate ventilation equipment, workers can die from lack of oxygen or exposure to toxic fumes.
  • Electrocution and explosions: If a trench worker comes in contact with an underground cable, natural gas main, or service line, it can cause an explosion or electrocution
  • Crush injuries: If a piece of heavy machinery is used too close to the trench, it can fall in, causing serious injuries to the machine operator and the workers inside the trench.
  • Flooding: Sudden, heavy rainstorms can cause flooding inside the trench, which can increase the risk of drowning if workers become trapped.

What Types of Injuries Do Trench Accidents Cause?

Unfortunately, trench accidents can often be fatal, but workers who survive a trench accident can suffer from the following injuries:

  • Brain and spinal cord injuries: These injuries occur if a worker falls into a trench, if the trench collapses, or if a piece of heavy equipment falls into the trench and hits a worker. If the injury is serious, it can cause permanent disability or death.
  • Organ damage: This can lead to hypoxia, which occurs when the brain and other organs suffer damage after not receiving enough oxygen. Depending on how long the worker went without sufficient oxygen, the damage can be permanent.
  • Broken bones, crush injuries, and amputations: Cave-ins, falls, and heavy equipment accidents can cause fractures, bone and tissue damage, or amputations. These injuries often require multiple surgeries and ongoing physical therapy, particularly if an amputation was necessary.
  • Thermal burns: Trench workers can suffer serious burn injuries from fires and explosions, as well as exposure to toxic fumes. Electrocutions can also cause electrical burns. These injuries can be extremely painful and require multiple skin grafting procedures. Workers with serious burn injuries are also at an increased risk of developing serious infections.

How Can Workers Prevent Trench Accidents?

There are serious, potentially life-threatening hazards at trench work sites if workers do not take the appropriate safety precautions. However, if workers remember the following safety tips, they can avoid serious, even fatal, injuries:

  • Install the following protective systems: The following methods include:
    Sloping and benching: Sloping is the cutting back of a trench wall at an angle, and benching is the process of creating steps to safely travel up and down the wall.
    Shoring: This involves creating a support system made up of timber and mechanical parts that prevents cave-ins.
    Trench shields: Also known as trench boxes, these are meant to protect workers should a collapse occur.
  • Use alternative trenching methods when necessary: The following methods include:
    Directional boring: This uses a machine that digs into the ground at an angle, creating a hole that will fit a pipe.
    Pipe ramming: Also known as pipe jacking, this is often used in horizontal projects where a pipe is hammered into the ground. This method is effective with larger pipes and for surfaces where other trenchless methods may not be effective.
    Utility tunneling: Although similar to pipe ramming, this uses linear plates, and workers must enter the borehole.
  • Conduct atmospheric testing: When a trench is deeper than four feet, hazardous gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, may be present.
  • Beware of falling loads: All workers should stand a safe distance from lifting or digging equipment. OSHA requirements state that worksite equipment must be stored a minimum of two feet away from the edge of the trench.
  • Inspect trenches regularly: Trenches should be inspected daily by a competent person. Additional inspections should occur after rainstorms or blasting work. Remove all workers from the area if unsafe conditions are found.
  • Install safe access and exit points: Trenches that are deeper than four feet should have easy modes of access and egress to the trench. In addition, the entrances and exits should be within 25 feet of the employee.
  • Identify utility lines prior to digging: Contact the local utility agency so they can come to the site and mark where gas, electrical, water, sewer, or phone lines are located underground. This can prevent a devastating accident from hitting any one of these lines while digging a trench.
  • Assign a competent person to be in charge: OSHA requires that a competent person be assigned to each trench job. That person should be a professional engineer, trained in identifying potential hazards for employees and eliminating dangers quickly. This person is responsible for performing the following tasks:
    – Classifying soil
    – Inspecting protective systems
    – Designing structural ramps
    – Monitoring water removal equipment
    – Conducting site inspections
  • Install safety signs: Signs posted in key locations at a trench site can prevent injuries.
  • Practice OSHA guidelines on trenching and excavation safety: Workers should adhere to the following OSHA guidelines:
    – Do not enter an unprotected trench
    – Always wear the appropriate safety equipment
    – Place excavated soil at least two feet away from the trench
    – Stand a safe distance away from vehicles that are loading or unloading material
    – Conduct safety inspections using a checklist

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Secure Maximum Benefits for Victims of Trench Accidents

If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a tragic trench accident, contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. We understand that these devastating accidents can cause serious injuries that involve costly medical bills, lost wages, and other costs associated with the injury. We will walk you through every step of the claims process and ensure that you receive the maximum financial benefits you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.