According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), injuries and deaths associated with trenches continue to happen. From 2003 to 2017, there were 373 trenching fatalities, with more than 80% of them in the construction industry. Trench collapses, or cave-ins, pose the most significant risk to workers’ lives. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and mobile equipment incidents. Understanding how to avoid injuries in this process relies heavily on how you approach the task.
The trenching process is one of many industries’ most dangerous and delicate jobs. Therefore, keeping a few essential safety tips in mind to accomplish any necessary excavation or trenching job would be best. By following these steps, you can make sure that your trenches are safe and secure while being productive at the same time. Below are five tips that will help protect both workers and structures alike:
1. Plan properly—proper planning is vital. Trenching requires adequate planning before you start digging. Make adequate safety precautions part of your plan by including the constraints in your initial bids and proposals. Also, ensure that anyone working on your project knows the necessary safety measures and how they must act accordingly, including any contractors or subcontractors you may use while working.
While digging around in a trench, you must always be aware of your surroundings. Anyone who plans to dig a trench should call 811 or go to your state 811 center’s website to request that the approximate location of buried utilities be marked with paint or flags so that you don’t unintentionally dig into an underground utility line.
Before any worker entry, OSHA standards require that employers have a competent person inspect trenches daily and as conditions change to ensure the elimination of excavation hazards. Therefore, check trenches at the start of each shift, following a rainstorm or other water intrusion, and after any occurrence that could have changed trench conditions.
Also, don’t forget to use proper signage on structures and equipment around the job site to alert your workers and pedestrians of any dangers and give them time to prepare for it.
2. Provide workers with protective gear. Ensure your workers wear safety equipment such as high-visibility safety vests, earplugs, gloves, glasses, steel toe boots, and hard hats. In addition, gas detection devices allow workers to test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases, and is required by OSHA if trenching deeper than 4 feet. If gas detection occurs, respirators can prevent employees from inhaling harmful chemicals and particles.
3. Have an evacuation plan. OSHA requires employers to provide ladders, steps, ramps, or other secure means of access and egress for workers working in trench excavations 4 feet or deeper. Moreover, the means of entry and exit must be less than 25 feet within the trench. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that the protective system be designed or approved by a registered professional engineer.
4. Install protective systems when necessary. Designing a protective system can be complex because you must consider many factors: soil classification, depth of cut, the water content of the soil, changes caused by weather or climate, surcharge loads (e.g., spoil, other materials to be used in the trench) and other operations in the vicinity. As a result, there are different types of protective systems:
- Benching protects workers from cave-ins by excavating the sides of an excavation to form one or a series of horizontal levels or steps (do not use the benching technique in Type C soil).
- Sloping involves cutting the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation.
- Shoring requires installing aluminum hydraulic or other supports to prevent soil movement and cave-ins.
- Shielding protects workers using trench boxes or other supports to prevent soil cave-ins.
5. Keep records of everything. When it comes to the safety of your employees, keeping accurate records of all the injuries, hazards, and open trenches in the area is extremely important. Well-kept documents will be essential if a claim is made against you for an injury and will help prevent any confusion or dispute about whether or not you’ve taken proper measures to provide a safe environment for your employees.
In conclusion, there are many steps to take regarding trenching, but they are vital for keeping a safe crew on the job site. The best thing you can do is take your time and ensure that everyone on staff knows the safety factors surrounding their job function. You will also want to ensure that everyone focuses on their actions and knows their surroundings while working in a trench.