Trench Deaths = Manslaughter?

Monday, March 8, 2021

In a grim reminder about the dangers of trench and excavation work, this article from Safety+Health Magazine also serves as a warning to employers. “The court’s decision sends a message to business owners that they can be held criminally accountable and face felony charges if they knowingly fail to protect their workers.”

The owner of Alki Construction LLC has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after an employee was buried while replacing a residential sewer pipe in a trench that had inadequate shoring and was missing a ladder.

Remember to ensure that you have a properly trained Trench Competent Person on site, and check out OSHA's Trenching and Excavation Safety Fact Sheet as a reminder when scheduling trench work.

 

Evaluating Your Rescue Service

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

 Evaluating your rescue service helps ensure that the team you have selected has the knowledge, technical skills, and capabilities required to meet your company’s specific needs. In addition, a team evaluation helps fulfill the performance requirements outlined in OSHA 1910.146 and 1926.1211. If you doubt the importance of selecting a competent and properly trained rescue team, consider this disturbing statistic: more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers.

2012_Chal_h_112OSHA 1910.146 Appendix F (non-mandatory) provides a great roadmap for employers when choosing and evaluating a confined space rescue team. It contains criteria that may be used to evaluate the capabilities of both prospective and current rescue teams. (Note: Although Appendix F is “non-mandatory”, the standards of 1910.146 are not. Appendix F is OSHA’s recommended method for compliance. Learn why you should pay close attention to Appendix F, even though it is “non-mandatory.”) 

The Two Components Of A Rescue Service Evaluation:

  1. An initial evaluation, in which employers decide whether a potential rescue service or team is adequately trained and equipped to perform permit space rescues of the kind needed at the facility and whether such rescuers can respond in a timely manner; and
  2. A performance evaluation, in which employers assess the skills of a prospective rescue team or rescue service during an actual or practice rescue.

Step 1: Initial Evaluation

The initial evaluation considers:

  • A team’s technical skills as evidenced by documented training
  • Number of personnel
  • Availability
  • Timeliness based on the hazards inherent in the space
  • Whether they meet the requirements of 1910.146 (k)(2) with regards to access to personal protective equipment (PPE), training in both technical rescue and first aid/CPR, and practice in representative permit-required confined spaces at least once per year
  • The ability to notify the employer when they are unable to respond – which is of particular importance for employers using 911 as their rescue service
  • and more (see Section A, Initial Evaluation in OSHA 1910.146 Appendix F)

Step 2: Performance Evaluation

Once employers have selected one or more rescue services that meet their criteria on paper, employers should provide the rescue service access to their worksite and ask them to perform in various scenarios of the employer’s choice. Performance evaluations should be administered to a prospective rescue service, as well as to periodically evaluate your current rescue service.

Consider Using A Third Party To Evaluate Your Rescue Service

Employers may opt to use a third party to evaluate their prospective rescue service. Third-party evaluations provide a number of added benefits:

  • They are useful when employers may not have the in-house expertise necessary to administer an accurate evaluation, or for employers who prefer having a third-party evaluation as a documented, independent, and unbiased record of the rescue service/team’s capabilities.
  • They provide an opportunity for the evaluator to recommend minor changes in equipment or techniques that would enhance the capability of the team.
  • In cases where contractors will be providing their own rescue capability, third-party evaluations help ensure that all parties are doing their due diligence where permit space entry is required. Some host employers mistakenly believe that they are relieved of all responsibility when a contractor’s employees are performing the entries. But 1910.146(c)(8) and (9) place reciprocal responsibilities on host and contractor. This includes the host employer informing the contractor that permit space entry is allowed only through compliance with a permit space program meeting the requirements of 1910.146, and the contractor informing the host employer of the permit program it will be following.

Taking the time to ensure that the rescue service you choose has the proficiencies and equipment to perform the specific types of rescue required at your facility could not only prevent injuries, it could even save lives.

If you would like additional information on utilizing Roco Rescue’s documented Team Performance Evaluation for your rescue service, please call 800-647-7626.

 


 

Non-Entry Confined Space Rescue…Are You Sure?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

There are three generally accepted types of confined space rescue: self-rescue, non-entry retrieval, and entry rescue. Just as with the hierarchy of hazard mitigation, confined space rescue should be approached with an ascending hierarchy in mind. 

  1. Self-rescue is typically the fastest type and eliminates or at least greatly reduces the chance that anyone else will be put at risk. For these reasons, it is the first choice, but it is unrealistic to think that an entrant would be able to rescue themselves in all situations.
  2. Non-entry retrieval is the next choice. OSHA stipulates that non-entry retrieval must be considered as a means of rescue – more on that shortly.
  3. Entry rescue is the last choice, largely because it exposes the rescuers to the same hazards that the original entrant faced.

Non-Entry Confined Space Rescue…Are You Sure?

OSHA recognizes the inherent danger of entry rescue, which is why the organization mandates “retrieval systems or methods shall be used whenever an authorized entrant enters a permit space.” However, OSHA goes on to qualify this statement with two very important exceptions. OSHA requires non-entry retrieval, “unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry or would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.”  Let’s examine each of these two provisions more closely... 

  1. Non-entry retrieval is required “…unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry.” For example, if the retrieval line would create an entanglement hazard that would impede the entrant’s ability to exit the space, then the retrieval system should not be used and entry rescue should be the choice.
  2. And non-entry retrieval is required unless the equipment “…would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.” The key here is that the non-entry method employed must be viable. It must work when called into action.

For non-entry retrieval systems, we are relying on that retrieval line to exert forces on the entrant to pull them out of the space without help from any other device or human intervention within the space. It must perform without someone inside the space maneuvering the victim or otherwise providing assistance to the retrieval system. It has to work independently of any other forces other than what is generated from outside the space. This extremely important point is often overlooked and has resulted in many fatalities. Sadly, many of those fatalities were the would-be rescuers that attempted entry rescue when the retrieval system failed to do its intended job.

Situations that may render the retrieval system useless would be any configuration or obstruction inside the space that would prevent the system from pulling the victim clear of the space in an unimpeded manner. This could be pipework or obstructions on the floor for a horizontal movement. Likewise, pulling an unconscious victim around corners may render a retrieval system ineffective. If the entrant moves over any edge and down into a lower area offset from an overhead portal even at moderate angles, the retrieval system will probably not be able to pull an inert victim up and over that edge, even if the drop were only a foot or so.

It must be clearly understood that retrieval systems may quite possibly be applying forces on a limp human body, which, as harsh as this sounds, becomes a sort of anchor. It requires a very thorough and honest evaluation of where the entrant will be moving in the space in order to perform their planned work, and what obstructions or structural configurations are in that path. If there is any possibility that the system will not be able to pull an unconscious, inert victim along that path, then the retrieval system is NOT viable.

Human Nature vs The Best Laid Plans - An Example

Okay, so you have done a thorough and honest evaluation of the space, its configuration, and internal obstructions and determined that there is a clear path from the entrant’s “planned” work area, which is offset ten feet from the overhead portal eight feet above. Clearly, the retrieval system will be able to pull the victim out of the space should the need arise. Enter human nature, and with that comes bad decisions. Murphy’s Law has a very nasty way of changing things for the worse. 

What if, in the course of the planned work, our entrant drops his wrench down into a sump immediately adjacent to his work zone but further from the overhead portal? The fixed ladder down into the sump is only five feet and he can clearly see the wrench stuck in the sludge below. He asks for slack on the retrieval line, climbs down into the sump, bends down to grab his wrench and is nearly immediately rendered unconscious due to an undetected atmospheric hazard. 

The attendant/rescuer sees that the entrant’s head and shoulders do not reappear and within several seconds calls to ask if he is ok, only to hear no answer. He calls several more times, but still no answer. He begins to haul with the retrieval system, which consists of a wire rope winch mounted to a tripod.  The cable becomes tight and the tripod shudders and shifts slightly, then all progress stops. The would-be rescuer tries with all his might to pull the entrant’s limp body up and over the 90-degree concrete edge, but cannot. 

In a panic, the attendant/rescuer climbs down into the space and over to the sump where he sees the entrant pulled tightly against the wall of the sump but not off the floor. He climbs down into the sump to attempt to lift the entrant’s 200-pound limp body up and over the five-foot wall. As soon as he bends down to cradle him, the hazardous atmosphere overcomes him also. Two fatalities later, we wonder how our non-entry rescue retrieval system could have failed us. It would not have, had human nature not interfered and caused two people to make bad decisions. 

That story was intended to point out that things do not always go according to plan. Not only do we humans make bad decisions on occasion, but we also have accidents due to trips, slips, and falls that may send us to an area that the retrieval system may not work. Conditions inside the space may change in such a manner that it affects the retrieval system. 

For all these reasons I implore you to evaluate the capability of the retrieval system to work not only when things go according to plan, but also to evaluate the system based on the “what ifs.” For the “what ifs” that involve bad decisions, that is a matter of training and communicating to the entry team why they cannot deviate from the work plan, even to fetch that dropped wrench. For the “what ifs” that include trips, slips, falls, or equipment failures, it may be time to consider a back-up plan, which may include an entry rescue capability.

Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue

Friday, February 15, 2019
by Brad Warr, Chief Instructor

The day before 40-year-old Phoenix firefighter Brett Tarver got separated from his crew and ran out of air at the Southwest Supermarket fire, the fire service felt confident in its ability to rescue a downed firefighter. That all changed when Tarver was found unresponsive thirty minutes after his mayday was broadcast over the radio. The tragic loss of Brett Tarver on March 14, 2001, left the firefighting community wondering what it had missed.

The ensuing years of self-examination and evaluation of rapid intervention techniques and operating procedures resulted in the development of NFPA 1407: Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews.
Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue
Released on December 5, 2009, the document provided a framework for fire departments to train, equip and deploy their personnel in the event of mayday. A decade later, firefighters are more prepared than at any time in history to launch a rescue operation when a brother or sister firefighter calls that mayday.

While firefighter rapid intervention techniques have continued to improve, confined space rapid intervention has not received quite as much analysis and focus for improving techniques and guidelines, despite the fact that more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. Perhaps this is why Roco Rescue’s course “Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue”, which is being offered at the North Dakota Safety Council’s (NDSC) upcoming 2019 Annual Safety & Health Conference, sold out in a matter of days. The industry – whether they are firefighters, emergency responders, or industrial workers, recognizes the vital importance of a subject that is truly a matter of life or death.

About the Course
Taking lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful rescues of downed firefighters, students attending “Rescuing the Rescuer” will apply those lessons to the world of confined space rescue. The day-long session will bring together rescuers of all experience levels seeking strategies for effectively responding to what nearly everyone agrees is the most stressful call a rescuer will ever receive.

The course will emphasize the following:

    • - Having a plan before something goes wrong is the only chance you have.
    • - Simple systems are easier to use in a stressful situation than complex systems.
    • - There are no systems that can replace a clear-thinking, highly-trained rescue technician.

While NFPA 1407 gives a clear picture of the responsibilities of a firefighter during a mayday, the picture is not nearly as clear for rescuers responding to the mayday call or loss of contact with a rescuer inside a confined space. The sometimes-murky relationship between OSHA and NFPA standards will be explored including a review of both the construction and general industry OSHA confined space standards (1926 Subpart AA and 1910.146).

Tackling a Rarely-Explored Topic

Although training for a downed rescuer is a topic that is rarely visited in rescue training due to time constraints and the extensive requirements rescue technicians already must meet in order to carry their title, Roco Rescue believes it is a topic that shouldn’t be overlooked. The popularity of the course in North Dakota demonstrates that this is a subject of extreme interest to the safety industry.

This is the first time Roco Rescue has offered the course in this format, but it most likely won’t be the last. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to learn about new course offerings. Safety professionals interested in this training who are unable to attend the sold-out course in North Dakota may also wish to explore Roco Rescue’s advanced tech level course, FAST-TRACK™ 120.

Rescuer fatalities have declined in recent years, but they aren’t declining quickly enough. Let’s do our part to ensure that workers in the safety and rescue fields make it home to see their families when their work is done.

Brad Warr

Brad Warr is a Chief Instructor for Roco Rescue and a Captain at the Nampa Fire Department. Brad joined Roco Rescue in 2003, teaching a wide variety of technical rescue classes including rope rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, and structural collapse. Brad became a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Department in 1998 and was promoted to Captain in 2006. Before joining the fire department, Brad worked for three years as an Emergency Response Technician for a large computer chip manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, where he was responsible for OSHA compliance, emergency medical response, confined space/rope rescue response and hazardous materials response.

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tim Robson’s involvement with trench rescue started in 1994 when his technical rescue team from the Albuquerque Fire Department responded to what the dispatcher called a trench event.

“When we arrived on the scene, no one was there other than a police officer and a grandmother,” Tim recalls. “She couldn’t find her grandson.”

A company doing trench work in front of her home had offered to pay the woman’s teenage grandson hourly to help them. The teenager was inside the trench when it collapsed.

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

“The company left, and they left him in the trench,” Tim explains. “Unfortunately, it was a fatality. When we found him, he had already succumbed.”

As a result of that experience, Tim understands firsthand the risks involved in trench work and the importance of trench safety. Now, Tim supervises Roco Rescue’s technical rescue teams across the globe and, as a Chief Instructor, leads training courses in – among other things – trench rescue.

Tim is presenting a course on “Managing Excavations” at the North Dakota Safety Council’s 46th Annual Safety & Health Conference later this month. We sat down to talk with Tim recently to find out more about trench safety and why it’s so important.

Roco Rescue: Good afternoon, Tim, and thank you for talking with us today about trench/excavation safety. Let’s start with the overarching question: How dangerous is trench work?

Tim:  Trenching/excavation is one of the major fatality-causing occupations in the U.S. right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 130 trench/excavation fatalities that occurred between 2011 and 2016, 80% of those occurred in the private construction industry.

What scares us even more is that the number of fatalities is trending up. In 2014, there were 13 fatalities in trench/excavation. In 2015, that number rose to 25. And in 2016, there were 36 fatalities. So nearly half of the fatalities that occurred over a fifteen-year period happened in 2015 and 2016. Despite the fact that the regulations have gotten stricter, the numbers are trending up.  

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Roco Rescue: We’re going to touch on the OSHA regulations in a moment. First, please explain why the number of fatalities is trending upwards.

Tim: The increase in fatalities goes hand in hand with the uptick in employment and construction; as the economy improves, there’s more construction and, with that, more trenching and excavation.

In addition to more construction, there’s less space. As a country, we’re building more roads, more buildings, and more infrastructure but we have less physical space to do it in.

And in addition to doing more construction in less space, in our world, we have to do more with less. Ten years ago, there were six people working on a construction trenching job; today, there are 4, and that naturally lends itself to more safety violations.

Roco Rescue: What makes trenches so dangerous?

Tim: First, let me explain the difference between a trench and an excavation: an excavation is wider than it is deep, meaning there’s less chance of dirt collapsing because the vertical walls of the trench are sloping. If my wall slopes away from the bottom of the hole I dug, there’s less chance of that wall falling in.

A trench, on the other hand, is deeper than it is wide. If I have to dig a trench with a perfectly vertical wall, because there’s a road right next to where I’m digging the trench, I can almost guarantee a collapse.

To give readers an idea of the physics and mechanics involved when soil collapses, I often use this analogy: A typical collapse involves a couple of yards of dirt. A couple of yards of dirt collapsing into a 6-foot deep trench has the same force as a pickup truck moving 45 miles an hour. If you’re at the bottom of the trench and the soil falls in on you from 6 feet, you’re getting hit with the same amount of force as a pickup truck traveling 45 miles per hour.

When that force hits you, you can’t survive. And that’s just the force. There’s also the compression and blocked airways that the victim experiences. Every time you take a breath, the soil gets closer to your body so now it’s compressing you and you’re not able to expand your chest wall.

That’s why this is such a big concern for OSHA.

Roco Rescue: Let’s talk more about the OSHA regulations. What is OSHA doing to help reduce the number of fatalities caused by trench collapse?

Tim: Last year, OSHA put out a compliance letter urging the construction industry to improve the safety of their trenching and excavation operations.

OSHA requires that any time someone makes an excavation or trench in the ground as part of their occupation, they have to designate what’s called a competent person. That’s usually someone in a management or supervisory position who is tasked with “identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”

Roco Rescue: Besides designating a competent person, what precautions can supervisors take at work sites to reduce trench injuries/fatalities, and what can workers do to keep themselves safe?

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Tim: Construction businesses have to meet the OSHA requirements for trench and excavation safety. To make the trench safe takes more time, more manpower and more labor. Ultimately, safety costs money, which is a challenge for small business in particular.

But the implications for failing to meet the requirements comes with an even bigger cost. Worker safety notwithstanding, the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice now agree that if a fatality occurs on a job site due to a willful violation of an employer, it is now a criminal act.

However, workers are equally responsible for their safety. They are also accountable for their actions. If a trained worker willfully gets into that trench, knowing it’s unprotected, they’re just as culpable as the company that put them there.

In short, the employer’s responsibility is to make sure individuals are trained at work and the employee’s responsibility to understand and follow those requirements.

Roco Rescue: What are three things attendees at your upcoming course at the NDSC Annual Conference can expect to take away from your presentation?

Tim: First, don’t take trench and excavation lightly. There’s a risk that comes with saying, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Second, they’ll leave with an understanding of OSHA’s trench/excavation competent person requirements.

Third, they’ll understand the requirements of AHJ (the authority having jurisdiction), which is generally the host employer. The AHJ is the entity that must deem someone a competent person. As an instructor, I don’t have that authority. Taking my class doesn’t qualify someone as a competent person.

Roco Rescue: How will the course you’re giving at the NDSC Annual Conference differ from Roco Rescue’s training courses in trench rescue?

Tim: At the Roco Training Center, we offer open enrollment courses in trench rescue and can even do a private training based on a specific industry. Our courses teach how to construct a trench so that it won’t collapse and, if it does collapse because of some catastrophic event, teaches workers ways to protect themselves.

Both the courses at the Roco Training Center and my course at the NDSC Annual Conference are focused on compliance, but the course at the NDSC is geared toward a broader audience.

Roco Rescue: What’s your final piece of advice for trench workers, Tim?

Tim: It’s simple: until you know it’s safe, don’t get in the trench.

Roco Rescue: Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us, Tim.

For more information about Roco Rescue’s open enrollment or private training courses in trench safety and trench competent person, check out our training options

 

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