The Latest In Fall Protection... Andy Speidel of MSA Safety on "Roco Chats With the Experts"

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Bridge Work-At-Height

Pat Furr (Roco Rescue): Good morning Andy and thanks so much for joining us today.

Andy Speidel (MSA): Oh, it’s my pleasure Pat. Thanks for inviting me.

PF: We’re going to talk about all things Fall Protection. We’ll cover the latest advances in equipment and talk about how they’ve impacted how we work at height. We’ll also touch on some recent and upcoming regulatory changes, get your take on ways readers might be able to improve their fall protection programs, and discuss how to work effectively with a safety equipment rep.

AS: Sounds great, Pat.

The Latest Innovations in Fall Protection Equipment

PF: MSA is a leader in the design and manufacture of fall protection equipment and systems, so tell us about the latest advances in equipment that may just make the end user’s job easier and safer all at once.

AS: The last several years have seen significant advances in the use of modern design and manufacturing techniques as well as the use of lighter and stronger materials such as aircraft aluminum and synthetic fibers. This has allowed MSA V-Fit Harness manufacturers to innovate and come up with products that are lightweight, easy to employ, multi-functional, and most importantly, these products are appealing to the authorized person, which ultimately encourages them to use it.

Our design team has put a lot of emphasis on making our harnesses more intuitive to don. The new lightweight materials we use make it possible to not only meet all the standards, but also to provide superior comfort, flexibility and adjustability - which ultimately allows the user to more easily don the harness.

PF: Of all the latest and greatest pieces of kit, which ones jump out as the most exciting for you?

AS: We’ve taken a huge step forward with our personal fall limiters (PFLs) V-EDGE™ Leading Edge Personal Fall Limiter through the use of Kevlar and Dyneema rope, which gives them the strength and abrasion resistance to be used in leading edge applications, while at the same time making them much lighter than earlier generations that used wire rope. Additionally, the interface allows the PFL to be used on a variety of harnesses. It’s a simple aluminum pin that slides through a web loop on the harness to make the connection.    

PF:  One of the scariest scenes I encounter when doing site visits are these Frankenstein, cobbled together horizontal lifelines. Some of them would struggle to hold up the laundry, let alone arrest a fallen worker.

AS: Horizontal lifelines must be designed, inspected and installed under the supervision of a qualified person, which I am willing to bet, some of the ones you’ve seen were not. We at MSA, as well as a few other manufacturers, are producing user-installable, pre-engineered temporary horizontal lifeline systems. These systems are typically constructed of wire or synthetic rope. They come in a variety of lengths and are very easy to deploy and recover. We have a unique system where two workers Horizontal Lifeline on the same horizontal lifeline can easily bypass each other without having to disconnect. This allows increased mobility and decreases worker interference while still maintaining 100% fall protection.

PF: I would imagine these systems include comprehensive user instructions that mandate the anchor strength requirements and detail clearance requirements?

AS: That is correct. The instructions outline the parameters for use and include calculations for clearance requirements based on the span of the line between anchors, the number of workers on the system, and the type of lanyard they’re using to connect. Our systems have either a turnbuckle or a pulley tensioning system, making it very easy to adjust the sag for the proper tightness of the line.

Equipment Advances Provide New Options For Re-Thinking Work-At-Height With The Hierarchy of Fall Protection In Mind

PF: One of the things that I see with the better fall protection equipment manufacturers is that they truly make an effort to educate the competent and qualified persons as well as the program administrators on their options for not only providing a safe and compliant solution for their employees, but also on appealing to the authorized persons. I think the big three for end users are lightweight, ease of use, and multifunctional. When you make a site visit or a presentation, it must be gratifying to see the light bulbs go on as your attendees hear the options available to them.

AS: It is and although my job entails selling equipment, I don’t approach my visits with ‘making a sale’ as my primary objective. I want to hear from the potential customer what their needs are and what their big concerns are.

PF: Are there any common themes in those discussions?

AS: Many people assume a fall arrest system is the only solution, when really we ought to take a step back and approach the problem using the hierarchy of fall protection. It’s not always possible, but quite often there’s a solution on a lower step of the hierarchy that restrains a worker from falling, or that brings some of the work to the ground – which is usually the safest solution.

Hierarchy of Fall Protection Poster

PF: That reminds me of an exercise I often do when I’m presenting on fall protection or giving a talk at a conference. I ask everyone in the audience to close their eyes and visualize whatever comes to mind as I state two words: fall protection. Then I ask them what they were visualizing.

AS: Let me guess… they say harness and fall arrest lanyard.

PF: Yep, those are the most common answers.

AS: That’s why it’s important for us to listen to the customer, assess their situation, and discuss solutions that work best for their application and provide the least amount of risk to the worker. For example, we have a lot of customers who need to regularly access a flat roof on an older structure with no perimeter guardrails or parapets. When I tell them about retrofitting guardrails such as our VersiRail system, they worry about the costs. When we discuss other options such as active restraint or even fall arrest systems and the time it takes to set up and the limited mobility they often provide, they start to see the advantages of a passive fall protection system which doesn’t require authorized person training or specialized equipment. And compared to the average cost for one fatal incident, let alone the tragedy of such an occurrence, suddenly the cost for a perimeter guardrail system sounds affordable.

VersiRail® Guardrail Systems

However, for those who still can’t justify the cost, we do have non-penetrating temporary anchors that work great on flat roofs for both active restraint and fall arrest anchors. Our Constant Force Post is one such example.

Freestanding Constant Force® Post

Ways To Improve Your Fall Protection Program

PF: What do you see as a less obvious deficiency in fall protection programs beyond the more common shortfalls such as general lack of compliance?

AS: One area that’s often overlooked is the need to read and understand the instructions for use for equipment and systems. This information is essential to ensure correct and safe usage. Not all SRLs are designed for leading edge applications. Not all personal fall limiters can be mounted at foot level. Even something as simple as proper fit of a full body harness varies from harness to harness. That’s why I encourage employers and fall protection program owners to work with a manufacturer who can help them standardize their equipment and provide follow-up support and training.

PF: That’s definitely a concern. Do you have any others that you would like to address?

AS: Greater focus on authorized person pre-use inspections. Unfortunately, OSHA only requires an annual periodic inspection be performed by a competent person for most fall protection equipment. Some systems such as horizontal lifelines need to be inspected by a qualified person. MSA recommends periodic inspection by a competent person on most pieces of equipment at 6-month intervals and depending on environmental conditions and type of wear and tear the equipment is exposed to, it can be even more frequent. We count on the authorized persons doing a thorough pre-use inspection, but often these are not being done as they should.

PF: Oh I agree 100%. I’ve seen some downright scary equipment that had no business being used on the job. My suggestion for program administrators: have your authorized persons perform the pre-use inspection on their coworker’s kit and vice versa. Nobody likes to get called out for having failed to do their job, so trading harnesses so that I inspect yours while you inspect mine creates an incentive to make sure yours is in serviceable condition.

Learn More: Equipment Inspection

 

 

Retrieval Self-Retracting Lifelines: A Primer

PF: I'd like to hear your thoughts on a piece of equipment that many end users are either unaware of, or don’t fully understand its capabilities. I'm talking about a retrieval self-retracting lifeline (RSRL).

AS: RSRLs are great in specific applications. Sometimes we are confronted with multiple hazards as defined by OSHA and ANSI. For instance, we may have a significantly high vertical entry into a permit required confined space. This involves at least two different OSHA regulations and requires certain protections as mandated by those different regs. We need to protect the entrant from the fall hazard and have a means of retrieving the entrant in the event of an emergency. In the case of the confined space regulation, if the vertical entry is greater than 5’, then the retrieval system must be a mechanical means of retrieval that is of sufficient hauling ability to lift the entrant up and out of the space. RSRLs satisfy both needs by providing fall arrest and retrieval capability.

PF: What types of anchors or anchor systems do you recommend for RSRLs in order to support a vertical confined space entrant? 

XTIRPA System for Confined Space Entry

AS: A tripod is a good choice, but for situations where there’s limited space, or some other obstruction that prevents the use of a tripod, the MSA Xtirpa system is a great way to mount either the RSRL or a straight winch system. It’s easy to set up and extremely lightweight. It’s compatible with a large assortment of mounting systems such as the manhole collar shown below, ballasted cantilever mounts, floor bolted mounts and many other options.

 

Regulatory Changes: OSHA’s Walking and Working Surfaces

PF: Let’s talk about the changes to the OSHA Walking and Working Surfaces regulation and specifically the changes to fixed vertical ladders and the shift to vertical ladder safety systems as a move away from cages and wells. What are the options for employers to retrofit these systems (without getting into the mandated timeline issues)?

AS: We have two primary ways these systems can be installed. Latchways® Vertical Ladder Lifeline Kits The first way is we can come out and install it for you, whether it’s one of our kits or it’s a custom-built system. For all applications greater than 90’, we facilitate an MSA-authorized installer to perform the installation. The second way is if a customer purchases one of our kits, they can opt to handle the installation themselves. We have kits up 90’, so they cover a lot of applications. All that’s really needed are some basic mechanical skills and the ability to follow the instructions provided within the user’s manual.

PF: I really think ladder cages are a poor solution for worker safety. I certainly wouldn’t want to fall through a ladder cage and get hung up in it. I can only imagine the horrific injuries that would result. I’m glad that OSHA has decided to make them obsolete, but I’m concerned that many employers will wait until 2036 approaches before making the move to a safer system.

AS: I agree and share your concern, Pat. Another way to meet compliance is to use a top mount davit with an SRL and tagline. This solution is an option when evaluating a vertical ladder safety system. Some companies go with this option because they’re easy to install and don’t require the user to have a front chest d-ring on their harness. V-TEC™ Mini Personal Fall Limiter Another option would be to use a twin leg personal fall limiter and clip along from rung to rung.  

Fall Protection in Residential Roofing

PF: You and I have worked together in the past up in your neck of the woods, presenting information to a variety of groups on fall protection equipment. As more safety managers see these new systems and equipment, they are very apt to provide a safer yet more user-friendly solution to their authorized workers. However, we are still seeing a particular segment of the construction industry lagging in providing compliant fall protection for their workers. That industry is residential construction and in particular residential roofing.

AS: Yes, residential roofing is clearly a segment that needs us to demonstrate that there are great solutions that not only keep their employees safe, but also make it easier for workers to do their jobs. I remember a recent conference where you had a steep angle roofing mock set up, and seeing the smiles on the faces of attendees when they realized they could let their harness support their weight instead of trying to curl their toes and hold onto the sheathing while laying felt. I think for most of them it was quite a revelation. I believe you had two different systems set up. The positioning system was simply a 5/8” lifeline with a short shock-absorbing lanyard attached to a manual rope grab. And on the other exposure you had a temporary horizontal lifeline along the peak with a leading edge SRL attached to it.

PF: Yes, but the SRL was not just any SRL. It was your V-Edge Leading Edge SRL.

AS: Yes, it was great to see the attendees’ reactions as the V-Edge followed their movement along the horizontal lifeline. In addition to the leading edge feature of that particular SRL, it also has a built-in roll-cage around the clear cable housing which allows the entire unit to pivot around a floor mounted anchor. This keeps the direction of pull or tension of the cable directly in line with the user and SRL. It works great on steep angle roofs attached to a horizontal lifeline to keep the device aligned vertically with the user as they move about the roof.

V-EDGE™ Leading Edge Self - Retracting Lifeline

Viewing Your Safety Equipment Rep As A Resource To Help Solve For Safety Concerns

PF: There’s certainly a lot of innovation happening in the fall protection equipment market. How do you recommend employers think about worker safety in the context of these new technologies?

AS: I think it’s a high return on investment exercise for employers to invite safety equipment representatives into their facility to look at different applications, almost like an audit. A good equipment rep specializes in staying on top of all the latest developments in the dynamic world of equipment and safety systems. It’s tough for an employer to do that on their own, so the safety equipment rep ideally will partner with the employer to evaluate all their concerns and help them prioritize. I’ve found employers are often pleasantly surprised with the solutions folks like me come up with, either because they didn’t think a solution existed, or because they were surprised we could make the workplace safer without impeding production.

PF: Andy, I want to thank you for having this chat with Roco Rescue and I know we have just scratched the surface of everything fall protection. I hope our readers have found this both informative and entertaining, and perhaps got them thinking about their own fall protection needs.

AS: Thanks so much for inviting me to join you today Pat. We at MSA want to ensure employers are armed with all the information they need to select the fall protection equipment and systems that best suit their needs. We love talking about how our products can be used in various applications, but most importantly how they can be used to ensure workers make it home safely.

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The ROI of Safety

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I hear it very often from students, attendees at safety shows, and during site needs assessments. It is usually something the safety representative says, but more and more, I hear it from the employees, and it goes something like this: “Our management wants us to be safe, but when it comes time to sign the check to pay for it, all of a sudden they have second thoughts.”   

In my experience, investment in safety is often cyclical; it ebbs and flows with the macroeconomy generally, and with a specific industry sector's performance in particular. Investment in safety tends to wane when profits are lean.   

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One of the old TV commercials put it clearly.  It was a motor oil commercial and the mechanic says, “You can pay me now for an oil change, or pay me later for an engine rebuild.” The broader message is: it's much cheaper to invest in preventative measures now than to pay for the failure later.   

 An article published in NSC’s Safety + Health magazine earlier this year points out some strategies that may help you as a safety professional demonstrate to your management the economic sense of investing in proactive safety.    

ROI-jan2019-infographic

 

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Taking Safety Home From Work

Friday, July 26, 2019

Hopefully your employer has a strong safety program and furnishes you with the proper guidelines, policies, equipment, and training that allows you to do your job safely and efficiently. I have a window into various worksites thanks to my line of work, and for the most part, the employees have everything they need at their disposal to help keep them safe. But, as I drive around my little town and through local neighborhoods, I see homeowners performing some pretty scary stuff as they do their chores. I see everything from folks mowing their lawns wearing flip-flops, to doing roof work on some very steep pitched roofs with no fall protection whatsoever.

Why is it that we are pretty darn safe while on the job, but at home, not so much? I’ll address several important factors that I believe drive this behavior, and I’ll offer some practical tips on how you can change working conditions at home to keep you safer.

One factor that explains the difference in workplace and home safety protocols is liability. OSHA provides the law that covers your activities at work – employers are bound by law to provide a safe working environment for their employees -- but the agency has no say when it comes to how you conduct yourself at home. While an employer can be found liable for a workplace injury or fatality and face fines or very serious litigation, if you injure yourself at home, it will most likely not result in any civil action against anyone. Essentially, it was your own darn fault (however, if you have a friend or neighbor helping you and they get hurt, you may certainly be held accountable).

Another consideration is the fact that safety equipment is generally more likely to be available at the workplace than at home. How often do people jack their cars up at home to work underneath?  Speaking for myself it is rare that I am under my car more than one or two times a year, and as a result, I may not have the best, most effective and safest equipment on hand (in contrast, a commercial garage will have cars up off the ground constantly and will have multiple sets of jack stands). If you pay attention and look to see what homeowners are using as jack stands in their driveways, it can be a horror show. I have seen everything from cinder blocks turned up on end, to a spare tire and some 4” X 4” blocks fashioned into rather sketchy jack stands.

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The rationale most of us use for these dangerous practices is: “I can’t justify the cost of purchasing jack stands that I’ll only use once a year.” While it might seem like a waste of money, please weigh that expense against the enormous cost of an accident, which might include significant medical and physical therapy expenses, lost income and possibly even lower future income due to decreased physical functionality. While all that is important to consider, it still doesn’t change immediate budgetary constraints, so if buying your own still isn’t in the cards, think outside the box a bit. Maybe your neighbor has a good set of jack stands that they can lend you or you can go to a tool rental center and rent a set.

Tool rental centers are a great resource in many ways. You would be amazed what they have available not for just tools, but also in the way of safety accessories. I recently rented a chainsaw to chop down a dead tree in our front yard. When I went to pick up the saw, the man at the counter asked if I needed a face shield, chaps, and steel shoe covers. I said, “Sure! How much extra will that cost?” He proudly said, “No charge, we want you as a return customer.” Now that’s what you call safety first.

Work at height is another activity where skimping on safety can be deadly. Every year approximately 500,000 people are treated for ladder-related injuries, 97% of which occur at home or on farms, and more than 400 people die from these injuries.

We have some steep roofs here in the northeast. Their pitch helps homes shed snow but is also just part of the regional style. Between the snow, ice dams, and all the leaves and twigs that end up in the gutters, homeowners are frequently up on their roofs clearing debris and repairing damage, but very  few think to use any type of fall protection, and to make matters worse, most times they are working alone. When we are on the job, we most likely have a selection of ladders and fall protection that we can choose from. Those ladders are most likely in great condition and have been inspected. My Dad’s old wooden extension ladder is still under the porch at my parent’s house. I remember that ladder from when I was 5 years old. To put that into context, I just applied for Medicare this month. That ladder belongs in a museum, not propped up against the eaves!

Even if your ladder is in great shape and is the proper ladder for the job, are we using it safely at home? I have never actually seen a homeowner that secured their ladder to the structure. I have seen ladders that had just enough overlap at the top to stay in place, sometimes as little as just a few inches. I’ve also seen ladders used on uneven surfaces with a couple chunks of 2” X 4” jammed under one leg to balance it. I’ve seen folks hanging off ladders to reach a branch or a part of their house, looking like they were trying out for the circus high-wire act. We do things at home that would get us run off most employers’ worksites.

Lack of liability / disciplinary consequences, lack of proper equipment, and possibly a false sense of security (thinking that the home environment is somehow safer than that at work) are the primary factors causing unsafe work conditions at home. The fact is, gravity is the same at both places, our flesh and bones are prone to the same injuries no matter if we are on the job or at home, the tools are just as sharp and the vehicles just as heavy at home as they are at work. So, my advice to you is to take the same attitude toward safety that you have at work and bring it home with you. Beg, borrow, rent, or buy the safety equipment you need. Use the buddy system. Most importantly, remember that it doesn’t matter where you are, at work or at home, the injury you sustain will have the same devastating impact on you and your family. (Actually, sustaining an injury at home will probably have a worse impact from a financial standpoint, as you will most likely not have the same compensations if injured at home versus at work.)

It’s satisfying to tackle home improvement projects and repairs. It gives us a sense of pride when our home and yard look good, and it protects/boosts the value of our property. But don’t lose sight of this: our homes and our property are replaceable, but our bodies and our health are not. Be safe out there!

 

 

About the Author:

Pat Furr is a Corporate Safety Officer, VPP Coordinator, Chief Instructor and technical consultant for Roco Rescue. In addition to penning articles on a variety of safety and technical rescue topics for Roco Rescue's blog, Pat teaches Confined Space Rescue, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Fall Protection programs across the country. He sits on the National Fire Protection Association’s Committee for Technical Rescue and helped author NFPA 1006, which outlines the professional qualifications standard for technical rescue personnel.

A retired U.S. Air Force MSgt/Pararescueman, Pat also helps design innovative equipment that improves safety in the industry, including a Class III rescue harness, a revolutionary fall protection harness, and a specialized anchor hook used for container access operations.

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US Coast Guard Warning Underscores the Dangers of Confined Space Entry

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

By Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator

The US Coast Guard issued a warning on the dangers of confined spaces after three crew members died of asphyxiation on a drilling rig. Although this tragedy occurred during a maritime operation and does not fall under the OSHA general industry nor the construction industry standards for permit required confined spaces, OSHA’s 1915 Subpart B does have clear guidance regarding confined and enclosed spaces and other dangerous atmospheres in shipyard employment. Additionally, 1915 Subpart B Appendix B provides the US Coast Guard requirements for an authorized person in lieu of a marine chemist. The USCG Safety Alert does not mention any member of the crew being either a marine chemist or a USCG authorized person assigned to evaluate the atmospheric conditions of the space. 

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This tragedy follows an all-too-common pattern of multi-fatality incidents where subsequent workers died in an attempt to rescue the original victim. While it is clear that there were considerations and provisions to ventilate the toxic gases that were either present in the space or were introduced into the space, it is obvious that the passive ventilation attempts fell well short of what was required. OSHA, ANSI, and the USCG all provide easily accessible and clear guidance regarding working in confined spaces.

Please take it upon yourself to ask anyone and everyone that you encounter that may be entering confined spaces: "Does your employer have a permit required confined space program that is at least compliant with OSHA?" It just may save their life. 

For a deeper understanding of OSHA’s requirements for permit required confined space rescue, including the factors that should be considered for determining whether non-entry is feasible, check out our article, “Confined Space Rescue: Non-Entry or Entry Rescue?” To learn how teams can share responsibility for risk-assessment and mitigation, check out "Safe Confined Space Entry - A Team Approach."

Click here to read the news article about this incident and the USCG Safety Alert.

 

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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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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Tim Robson

Tim Robson is a chief instructor and the New Mexico CSRT Director for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes and has been instrumental in the development of our Trench & Structural Collapse Rescue programs. In his role as a CSRT Director, he leads our on-site rescue and safety services, from rescue stand-bys to confined space program management to leading safety meetings and the list goes on. Prior to joining Roco in 1996, he served in the US Marine Corps as a Rescue Diver/Swimmer, at the Albuquerque Fire Department, and as a Rescue Squad Officer for FEMA’s New Mexico Task Force 1, participating in several deployments for FEMA, including the Pentagon following the Sept. 11th attacks.

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