Non-Entry Confined Space Rescue…Are You Sure?

Tuesday, May 07, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator

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. 


Pat Furr
Pat Furr

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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Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A rash of trench incidents has left behind multiple fatalities and untold devastation to families. The following incidents occurred in only a matter of weeks. We log these incidents as a reminder of how deadly trenches can be. Proper training and the right equipment are needed before attempting a rescue; or, as in most cases, a recovery.

These events came to our attention over recent weeks including one incident in which the victim was not even in the trench until the ground collapsed beneath him. Another incident happened adjacent to the department where one of our Roco Chief Instructors (Brad Warr) works in Idaho. His department also responded.

As you read these accounts, pay careful attention to how tragic and deadly these incidents can be.

We’ve also included two successful trench rescues at the end of these stories.

REMEMBER: OSHA advises to “Protect Yourself…” Do not enter an unprotected trench! Trenches 5-feet deep or greater require a protective system unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. Trenches 20-foot deep or greater require protective systems designed by a registered professional engineer. OSHA also requires safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps or other safe means in trenches 4-feet or deeper. The devices must be located within 25-feet of all workers.

Worker Killed After Being Trapped in 16-Foot-Deep Trench

(4/26/19) DEKALB COUNTY, GEORGIA 

Fire-Rescue crews were called out to a subdivision construction site Friday afternoon in DeKalb County after crews reported that a 16-foot trench had collapsed on top of a worker.

Firefighters said that the man was helping to guide a backhoe as it dug the trench and the ground gave way, trapping the construction worker inside.

"The ground below him caved in and he fell into the hole. The hole was about 16 feet deep and about two feet of dirt on each side of the hole fell on top of the victim and covered him up," said Capt. Dion Bentley with DeKalb Fire Rescue.

Firefighters reported that two other construction workers at the site tried to rescue the victim when it first happened.

Investigators said there was no trench box inside the hole when the collapse happened. Crews said that was because no one was working inside the trench when the collapse happened. It is unclear if that violates OSHA rules. OSHA officials will now be responsible for investigating the incident.

Man Dies Before Being Rescued from Trench

(4/25/19) ALPINE, UTAH

A man working to install a pool in the backyard of a home died in a trench collapse Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

The victim, a 53-year-old man, was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries suffered in the collapse, Lone Peak Fire Chief Reed Thompson said.

Lone Peak Fire Department crews responded to the collapse shortly after 1 p.m. When crews arrived, they found a man with dirt up to his waist.

"We were told by others on scene that prior to our arrival, he had been encapsulated up to his neck," Thompson said.

The man died before crews could rescue him from the fallen trench, Thompson added. The Lone Peak Fire Department was helped in the recovery effort by the Utah County Technical Rescue Team, which includes crews from American Fork, Lehi, Pleasant Grove and Orem.

"In this particular incident, the victim was in a trench that did not have any security measure in place — such as shoring — and was deeper than what OSHA requires at 4 feet," Thompson said. "As a result of that, you've got heavy dirt and other materials that can potentially fall or collapse into the open hole, which is what occurred."

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Man Dies When Trench Collapses

(4/21/19) LYCOMING COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

One man was killed in a rural area when a trench dug to fix a water line problem collapsed around him. The man was pronounced dead in the trench but it took nearly three hours to remove the body. Rescuers first had to shore the sides of the eight-foot deep ditch. The coroner listed asphyxiation as the cause of death.

While there were no witnesses to the collapse, family members believe he was buried about 15 minutes in the 15-foot long x 6-foot wide trench. Family members had cleared the clay-based soil from around the victim’s head before emergency responders arrived at the scene.

Although no pulse was detected, rescuers continued to remove dirt down to his waist in a rescue effort. Those efforts were discontinued once a paramedic with a heart monitor determined he was dead.

Two Workers Die in Colorado Trench Collapse

(4/17/19) WELD COUNTY, COLORADO

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Two construction workers died after having been trapped in a 15-foot-deep trench that collapsed on top of them at a Colorado residential property.

The Fire Chief of Windsor Severance Fire Rescue said that the two men were working in the trench when it collapsed, completely burying them in dirt and compact soil.

Despite an hours-long rescue operation, both men died from injuries sustained in the incident. It was early the next morning when the fire department announced that the operation had switched from a rescue to a recovery effort, which was expected to take several more hours.

When Windsor Fire Rescue arrived on the scene, workers had been able to insert a PVC pipe to one of the trapped men, allowing him to communicate with the rescue crews above ground. No contact with the second worker was made, the release said.

The soil condition of where the workers were trapped made the excavation process more difficult as only small hand shovels and buckets could be used since the ground was both unstable and compacted.

Extreme caution was used to prevent further injury to the two men, the release said.

When rescue workers reached the trapped men, they had already succumbed to their injuries.

(Photo used above is courtesy of Windsor Severance Fire Rescue.)

Two Dead After Trench Collapse

(4/10/2019) NEW PLYMOUTH, IDAHO

Two men, working for a private company installing irrigation pipes in a rural area, were killed when the trench they were working in collapsed. Emergency responders were able to extricate the two men from the trench, but were unable to resuscitate them.

Payette County dispatchers sent three different fire departments, paramedics, law enforcement, two separate highway departments and a private construction company to the scene to extricate the men.

TRENCH RESCUES:

Man Rescued after being Buried Up to His Waist

(April 2019) FREMONT, CALIFORNIA

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

A man was rescued when he was trapped up to the waist in a trench incident. The Fremont Fire Department was able to remove the individual from the trench. The victim was hospitalized with moderate injuries.

Construction Worker Rescued from Trench

(April 2019) CALDWELL, IDAHO

A construction worker was taken by air ambulance to a local hospital after getting hit by a bucket that fell off a tractor into a trench, according to the Caldwell Fire Department.

Either water or sewer lines were being installed when a bucket detached from a tractor and injured a construction worker in the approximately 20-foot-deep trench, said Caldwell Fire Chief Mark Wendelsdorf.

The bucket had to be removed from the trench before the man was rescued, though Wendelsdorf did not know if that meant the man was pinned by the bucket, or if it was only preventing him from getting out.

The Nampa Fire Department’s ladder truck was used and acted as a rigging system to get the injured man out.

The trench did have a trench box and shoring in place. OSHA is investigating the incident, according to a Department of Labor spokesperson.

The rescue took about an hour, as crews made sure that the trench would not collapse while the technical rescue took place.

NOTICE:
At some time, every emergency responder may be called to a trench incident – whether a rural area or industrial construction site. Know, at minimum, how to protect yourself. Roco Trench Rescue courses offer safe, practical techniques for dealing with trench rescue incidents. Sign up now or call to observe one of our hands-on trench classes.

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Chad Roberson Named Interim Director of Training

Friday, March 29, 2019
“My drive is to help us get better.”
Growing up in a small northern Louisiana town, Chad Roberson admits he was “around the fire service a lot.” His father was a volunteer firefighter and from a young age, Chad understood what a life of service looked like. From age 16, Chad served as a volunteer firefighter at the same department where his father worked. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, Chad became a full-time firefighter with the St. George Fire Protection District.

Chad excelled in the Fire District, working his way up to Captain, District Chief, and eventually Assistant Chief – the role he serves today. He also returned to school for two additional degrees: an associate degree in Fire Science from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Executive Fire Service Leadership from Grand Canyon University.Chad Roberson Named Interim Director of Training

Chad’s first introduction to Roco Rescue was as a student in the mid-1990s, when he took a training course funded by his fire department. After taking a few more courses, his instructors invited him to apply for a job, and he began his career journey with Roco Rescue working part-time on one of the company’s contracted safety and rescue teams.

In 2001, Chad completed an instructor development course and has been teaching for Roco Rescue ever since. In 2007, he was promoted to Chief Instructor and now serves as the Interim Director of Training.

A Career Steeped in Service
In his role at Roco Rescue, Chad draws heavily from his experience with the St. George Fire Protection District, where he leads technical rescue operations, manages vehicle, trench, structural collapse, rope, confined space, flood water, and boat rescue, as well as hazardous materials training. His exposure to technical rescue on the municipal side has benefitted his work at Roco Rescue. In his new role as Interim Director of Training he oversees all aspects of the training program, including instructor recruitment and development, curriculum updates, assessment and evaluation of both new equipment and new rescue techniques, and modifications to the Roco Training Center. He also spends a significant amount of time speaking with customers about course content, private training and custom classes.

His experience with the Fire District has also enhanced his people management skills. “When it comes down to managing people, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in,” he says. “Management, leadership and supervision all go hand in hand. I’ve had a number of great mentors and role models, and the things I’ve learned at the fire department have been very useful to me at Roco Rescue, and vice versa.”

It is especially important, he says, to develop the ability to teach to a broad range of learning styles. “Everybody has a different learning style,” he says. “To be a successful instructor you have to understand this and be able to step back and think of different approaches; you’ve got to be versatile in your communication style and method.”

"Our instructors at Roco Rescue are especially skilled at recognizing and adapting to each student’s learning style,” says Chad, “and this is a key factor that sets us apart. It exemplifies how we care about our students and work hard to help them become great rescuers. It starts at the top, with the leadership style and the example Miss Kay sets. We treat everyone like family, whether we are training a team, doing a refresher course for a long-time customer, or providing a service at an industrial plant.”

Chad also cites the instructors’ willingness to encourage students to problem-solve and be versatile in their approach to performing a rescue, as something that differentiates Roco Rescue. “There are multiple ways to get things done,” he says. “There is no one correct way to do a rescue. But you need to make sure it’s an efficient process. We tell our students, ‘this is just one way to get it done.’ That sets us apart as a company as well.”

His “Why”
When asked why he has devoted his entire career to rescue, Chad’s answer is simple. “My drive is to help us get better,” he says.

“In Louisiana, we’ve seen so many natural disasters. And when that happens, you really see the areas for improvement and the need to help people out. Managing the incidents and being involved in process improvement to make rescues more successful and efficient – that’s my drive.”

What’s Ahead
Currently Chad’s priority is to expand Roco Rescue’s instructor base; a large part of his time is spent implementing strategies to search for and train the best of the best to join the team. He will also be playing a significant role in planning the annual Roco Rescue Challenge, a team performance evaluation in which rescuers put their skills to the test in a variety of realistic, hands-on scenarios.  

Keeping up to date on developments in rescue technology and evaluating equipment to ensure it is optimized for both comfort and safety is one of the most critical parts of his job. “Technology is driving just about every industry worldwide, and it’s no different in the rescue business or with the equipment we use,” he says. 
 
Finally, he is excited about finding new and better ways to listen to the voice of the customer in order to keep improving everything Roco does. 

Chad is trained extensively in executive leadership and planning, technical rescue operations, hazardous materials management, and more. He holds a COSS (Certified Occupational Safety Specialist) certification and a CFO (Chief Fire Officer designation). He is a certified EMT and is certified by the American Heart Association in Basic Life Support. He received accolades from the St. George Fire Protection District as Chief Officer of the Year in 2016 and a Unit Commendation Award in 2014. He is also a sought-after speaker, having presented at first responder training conferences nationwide, and his work has been published in a variety of national publications.

In his spare time, Chad enjoys spending time with his two young sons, coaching their basketball teams, and taking them on trips to visit family. He attends St. Jude Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, and he is a big fan of the LSU Tigers.
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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.

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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.

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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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