It has taken a while to list and attempt to describe all the top ten OSHA violations and highest penalties assessed for last year, but this is the next-to-last one. It is my hope that in some way, by seeing not just the list, but what each violation means, workers and employers may be more aware if any hazards exist in their place of work. Many companies go for years without a lost-time incident; they are very conscientious of the importance of safety. However, there are many others that may think that safety is not as important, and may put profit ahead of the well-being of their employees. Safety pays off in the long run, and by doing these reviews, I hope that attention will be paid to costs incurred, not only in fines, but more importantly, injuries and lives lost.
Number 7 on our list of highest penalties assessed is: Excavations, requirements for protective systems, construction (29 CFR 1926.652). Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. An excavation is any man-made cavity, trench, cut or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet. First of all, OSHA standards require that trenches be inspected daily and as conditions change, by a competent person prior to work entry to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. This person should be authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or control these hazards and conditions.
Cave-ins are the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. According to OSHA, the fatality rate for excavation work is 112% higher than the rate for general construction. Falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment are other potential hazards. Collapses of trenches cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year. This seems to be a job only for the bravest of the brave!
There are three different types of protective systems, and persons should never enter an unprotected trench. There are many things to consider when designing a protective system, such as soil classification, water content of soil, changes due to weather or climate, depth of cut, and other materials that will be used in the trench. Here are ways of making the trench safer:
- Sloping. This involves cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation.
- Shoring. This requires installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement and cave-ins.
- Shielding. This protects workers by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins.
General Trenching and Excavation Rules from OSHA include:
- Keep surcharge loads at least 2’ from trench edges.
- Inspect trenches at the start of each shift.
- Inspect trenches following a rainstorm.
- Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
- Know where underground utilities are located, in order to avoid electrocution or explosion.
- Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases.
- Never work under raised loads.
Trenches 20′ deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer or be based on tabulated data prepared and/or approved by a registered professional engineer. Evidentally, excavation safety has not improved to the point of not making the list of highest penalties assessed, since it was classified as 7th. Let’s hope next year, excavation safety will be off the Top Ten list!