You already know that working in trenches is inherently dangerous. You know this because we’ve all seen the reports on the news: the reporter standing in the foreground, and over one of his or her shoulders, firefighters and police standing around a trench already wrapped in crime scene tape, site of the latest tragedy. Trenches, even properly constructed trenches, can and do cave in.
Don’t let your employees dig their own graves! Proper education and training is critical in avoiding incidents, accidents, injuries and tragedies. Did you know that if someone is in a trench, you are required to have an officially trained, card-carrying OSHA competent person on site at all times?
There are a number of companies and organizations that provide Trench Safety Training located throughout the country. It is not expensive (certainly not when you compare it to the value of a life), and your employees will appreciate that you’ve invested time and money in their safety and education. (Disclaimer: This blog is meant only to educate you to possible risks; it doesn’t even begin to cover all of the facets of professional Trench Safety Training, and cannot substitute for the training you are required to provide your employees.)
There is a lot of information shared at these training sessions, too much to review in the course of a blog. But here are a few highlights:
- Did you know that any hole in the earth that is deeper than knee-deep is considered a “trench” by OSHA? That’s because people digging even shallow trenches are digging them to work in, work that frequently requires kneeling inside the hole or trench, maybe to lay pipe or fix a leak. That knee-deep trench when standing is now chest deep when kneeling and a tragedy waiting to happen.
- Did you know that soil typically weighs between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds per cubic yard, depending on how much water is in the soil? Someone covered to the chest is trying to breath with thousands and thousands of pounds of pressure on all sides of their chest. Even if their head is exposed to the air, suffocation is a distinct possibility!
- Did you know there are three types of soil as defined by OSHA, with each type requiring different digging techniques and different off-sets of the soil piles from the edge of the trench or hole?
- Did you know that you are required to have two ladders or other means of escape from any trench?
- Did you know that certified trench boxes are ALWAYS required in any trench, no matter how deep – homemade plywood shoring doesn’t count? (Experts in the field
suggest you just go ahead and make coffins with the plywood, since they are never engineered sufficiently to actually withhold and constrain a cave-in.)
- Did you know that ALL work conducted in a trench MUST be conducted INSIDE the safety of the trench box – working even a few feet outside a trench box doesn’t eliminate the risk of burial, because no one is quick enough to move to safety in the midst of a cave in?
- Did you know that depending on the depth and circumstances of the type of trench, it may also require ventilation under the OSHA confined space requirements?
- Did you know as the Owner, Operator, Manager or Supervisor of individuals working in trenches you are REQUIRED to provide them training?
If you didn’t know the answer to any of these questions, you need to educate yourself and your employees. If you are a plumber or drain cleaner, you know that working in trenches is a common – for some of us daily – occurrence, as are trench collapses. You only hear about the tragic results. There are many more that go unreported, where injury or death is only narrowly avoided. In the event of injury or death, state and federal OSHA investigations will occur, and the fines and penalties can be enormous. But nothing OSHA can do to you will offset the guilt and sorrow you’ll know if that death could have been avoided through training and education.
Here are some links to a few organizations that can provide or direct you to training in Trench Safety. This list is by no means exclusive, and it is very likely there is a local resource in your area.
Please get trained – the life you save may be your own!