If you work in an industry where you have to deal with excavations and trenches, you know how dangerous they can be. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) views these are some of the most dangerous parts of working in construction or for a utility company. As a consequence, they have put in place some serious rules and regulations that govern shoring systems and trench shoring boxes.
The first thing you need to do is get to understand what OSHA means when they talk about trenches, excavation projects and shoring systems. Any cavity that has been created by humans, including trenches or depressions, is an excavation as per the agency’s rules. They consider any excavation, that is more deep than it is wide and is no wider than 15 feet, to be a trench.
When the trench in question is deeper than five feet, unless it has been created completely in stable rock, needs additional protection be provided for the workers who will be in the trench. There are different types of shoring systems that should be used in this setting. Also when the trench reaches the depth of 20 feet, a professional engineer needs to be brought in to design the trench shield. At the very least, the shoring systems that are used need to be designed based on data supplied by a professional engineer.
While no one really expects accidents and issues with their trenches or excavations to happen on their job sites, the problem is they often do. OSHA does not make these rules and regulations in a vacuum. They have special regulations for these situations because of how dangerous they are and how many accidents happen. They report that collapses in trenches are responsible for at least two deaths every month.
If you are in the construction business and have not spent much time looking into and thinking about the basics of dealing with trenches, it is never a bad idea to have a refresher in the best practices for working safely with trenches. It is important to keep workers safe in the event of a cave in on your workplace.
- Never let workers go into an unprotected trench. This is just a recipe for disaster. Make sure you have the right shoring system in place.
- Make sure everyone has the right training. There is no reason you should allow your employees to work in and around trenches without getting the appropriate safety training. You new workers should get it but you should also provide refresher courses to the people who have been with you a while. Make it easy for people to access your safety policies and procedures.
- Make sure everyone understands that safety on the job site is everyone’s responsibility. You should have experts who can look for potential hazards but if someone else sees something that does not look right, they should tell someone.
- Always check out your trenches before and after each shift or after bad weather hits. A lot can happen during the course of a shift. A lot can happen overnight when no one is around. Even more can happen to damage a trench during a rain storm. OSHA has some specific requirements for the staff who are tasked with doing these inspections. They need to be trained on what they should look for and what hazards may come up with trenches and shoring systems.
- Have the right escape systems available. If you have trenches that are more than four feet deep, you need to supply ladders (these need to extend three feet above the top of the trench), ramps or stairs. Your workers in the trench should never have to work more than 25 feet from the exit of these trenches and you need to have exits on both sides of a trench.
- Check the oxygen levels in your trenches. You should also check for toxic fumes or gases in the trench. There are systems and tool you can use for this. You should not use a bird in your trench to check these levels.
It may often seem that OSHA creates its rules and regulations to be annoying but they do make a difference and can save lives. These tips can make your workplace much safer.