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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.

 

Trench Safety Stand Down Resources

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

June is Trench Safety Month and June 15-19 is Trench Safety Stand Down week. We are partnering with NUCA (National Utility Contractors Association) to encourage everyone who does trenching or excavation as part of their work to participate in the Stand Down by holding a toolbox talk on trench safety. Here's how you can prepare for your stand down. (Remember, participating in the stand down by talking about safety is more important than when you do it.) 

We're also making available a number of informational resources you can use as part of a safety talk or presentation. Our webinar with NUCA has lots of information about the trench competent person, as well as how you can help the rescue team should you need to call them.  Click below to get access to a recording of the webinar:

Access our Trench Talk webinar recording by completing the form here

We received some great questions from those who attended the webinar, and we didn't have time to address all of them within the hour. Below are the questions that we didn't get to discuss live, and the answers.

What is the maximum gap allowed between the dirt and backside of a trench box or sheet piling?

OSHA speaks to this issue in the standard and a Letter of Interpretation. From OSHA Standard 1926.652(g)(ii) requires that trench shields be installed “to restrict lateral or other hazardous movement.”

 This Letter of Interpretation states " although our standard does not set a maximum distance between a shield box and a trench face, an employer would be required to ensure that, in the event of a collapse of the face, the shield would not move laterally. "

If you are sitting in an excavator inside the excavation, does it still need to be sloped in accordance with the standard?

Yes, OSHA requires that all employees that are exposed to soil collapse shall be protected from potential cave-in. In a Letter of Interpretation, OSHA does speak directly to pile-driving equipment and operations and states that the excavation must be sloped/protected.

We recently had a vendor come out selling inflatable trench panels.  Anybody have experience with them, or an opinion on them?

We circulated this question among our trench rescue instructors, who are also active rescuers in municipal departments from New York to Idaho. We have not had first-hand experience with inflatable trench panels, either by demonstration or in actual use. Thank you for making us aware of this alternative equipment.

Is a Daily Excavation Safety Checklist required to be completed prior to work starting for the day?

The OSHA standard requires a daily inspection be completed prior to the start of work, after any rainstorm, dewatering activities, and after any hazard causing event.

If a trench box is installed, is it best to back fill around the box to prevent sudden failures of soil outside of the box from crashing into the box?  In other words, fill the void spaces / eliminate soil momentum?

OSHA speaks to this issue in the standard and a Letter of Interpretation. From OSHA Standard 652(g)(ii) requires that trench shields be installed “to restrict lateral or other hazardous movement.”

 The Letter of Interpretation states "although our standard does not set a maximum distance between a shield box and a trench face, an employer would be required to ensure that, in the event of a collapse of the face, the shield would not move laterally. "

Should excavations beyond 4 - 5 feet in depth be permit required confined spaces?

No. The OSHA Construction Industry Confined Space Standard Subpart AA 1926.1201(b)(1) states that the standard does not apply to construction work regulated by 1926 Subpart P—Excavations. However, an entity may choose to exceed OSHA’s minimum requirements and classify excavations/trenches as confined spaces. If an entity does apply the definition to a trench, then they are now required to follow all of the confined space requirements as stipulated in 1926.1200 Subpart AA.

More Resources


Toolbox talk English

Here's a great 1-pager designed for a toolbox talk:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toolbox talk Spanish

 

And here's the same 1-pager in Spanish:

 

 

 

 

This is a checklist you can use for planning and continuous monitoring of an open trench, and also a good topic of conversation to share with your team:

Daily Excavation Checklist 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions? Reach out to us. We're here to help.

Stay Safe,

The Roco Rescue Team

 

IMPORTANT: The information at RocoRescue.com is provided as a complimentary service. It is a general information resource and is not intended as legal advice. Because standards and regulations relating to this topic are typically performance based, and compliance with those standards and regulation is often dependent on the specific circumstances and conditions at hand, it is always important to carefully review all relevant standards and regulations, and to follow the proper protocols specific to your company or agency.

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Wednesday, May 1, 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.

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

 

Trench/Excavation Competent Person Training

Monday, October 15, 2018
If you are supervising an excavation/trench job or are signing off on a permit for excavation work…YOU NEED THIS CLASS!

Trench/Excavation Competent Person Training

This 8-hour course from Roco is intended for Owners, Supervisors, Managers, Operators, and Safety personnel who are required to oversee Excavation and Trench work.

OSHA has recently updated its National Emphasis Program (NEP) on preventing trenching and excavation collapses in response to a recent spike in trenching fatalities. According to a study by OSHA1, the primary reason trenches collapse is that they are not properly protected. Protective systems were properly employed in only 24% of the trench collapse fatalities. In the remainder, a protective system was either improperly used (24%), available but not in use (12%) or simply unavailable (64%).

Despite the fact that environmental conditions were a contributing factor in 68% of the fatalities, the Competent Person2 was not onsite when the fatality occurred 86% of the time.
Most of the time (65%) the employer (Competent Person’s responsibility) had not identified the soil type even though soil type is a factor in trench cave-ins.

Because of the extreme hazards involved, OSHA 29 CFR 1926.650 Subpart P (Excavations) requires at least one person be trained as a Competent Person for excavation sites, which includes trenching activities. Trenching and excavation compliance and safety is dependent on these specialized employees, and OSHA has recognized that a higher level of training and experience is required than a normal worker would possess. OSHA relies on the Competent Person for certain activities or safety procedures at a construction site such as design, daily inspections, and supervision.

Tasks performed by the Competent Person include:
• Monitoring water removal equipment and operations.3
• Inspecting excavations subject to runoff from heavy rains to determine need for suitable protection.4
• Determining cave-in potential and need for protective systems.5
• Examining damaged material or equipment used for protective systems.6
• Classifying soil, by both visual analysis and by testing, to determine appropriate protection; re-classifying, if necessary.7
• Determining the appropriate slope of an excavation to prevent collapse due to surcharge loads, operating equipment, adjacent structures, or traffic, and assuring that  such slope is achieved.8
• Designing structural ramps that are used solely by employees as a means of access or egress.9
• Authorizing immediate removal of employees from the hazardous area where evidence of possible cave-in, failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, or other hazardous conditions exists.10

Course Topics Include:
• Scope, Application, and Definitions of OSHA 1926.650, 1926.651 & 1926.652
• Specific Requirements of an Excavation Competent Person
• Identifying Existing and Potential Hazards
• Soil Classification
• Protective Systems – Requirements, Options, Installation and Inspection
• Sloping and Benching – Requirements
• Aluminum Hydraulic and Timber Shoring
• Shoring Alternatives (Trench Boxes)
• Using Tabulated Data: OSHA, Manufacturer’s and Engineer’s Tabulated Data
• Protective Systems Selection
• Rescue Considerations

This Roco class is available as a privately scheduled event. To schedule, email us at info@RocoRescue.com or call 800-647-7626.

1 Results of OSHA’s 2003 investigation are still useful in understanding why trench fatalities occur and how they can be avoided.
2 Competent person is defined by OSHA “as an individual, designated by the employer, who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to workers, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”

3 [29 CFR 1926.651(h)(2)]
4 [29 CFR 1926.651(h)(3)]
5 [29 CFR 1926.652(a)(1)]
6 [29 CFR 1926.652(d)(3)]
7 [29 CFR 1926 Subpart P Appendix A]
8 [29 CFR 1926 Subpart P Appendix B (c)(3)(iii)]
9 [29 CFR 1926.651(c)(1)(i)]
10 [29 CFR 1926.651(k)(2)]
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