NCDOL releases trenching hazard alert

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The N.C. Department of Labor published the following hazard alert on the dangers of trenching and excavating in the January-February 2012 Labor Ledger:

Excavation and trenching operations are among the most hazardous of construction activities. Two excavation and trenching events last year in North Carolina resulted in willful citations.

The Labor Department recently published a hazard alert to remind employers of the dangers of excavations and trenches and of the requirements of the OSHA standard.

OSHA defines an excavation as any man-made cut, cavity, trench or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal.  A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet (29 CFR 1926.650(b)).

In each case, accident investigators determined that the employer had knowledge of the Excavations Standard and the volatile conditions while employees worked inside unprotected excavations. One event involved the installation of a 14-foot section of PVC sewer pipe in a 12-foot deep excavation of Type B soil.

The other involved installation of a 10,000-gallon septic tank and reactive tank in excavations up to 15.8 feet deep in Type C sandy soil. The excavations in each event had nearly vertical walls with no trench boxes or shoring to protect employees from exposure to hazards.

One project was six to eight weeks behind schedule. Time became of essence and safety was compromised, which resulted in a cave-in causing blunt trauma and asphyxiation to an employee.

Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres and incidents involving mobile equipment. Nationwide, trench collapses cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year.

Citations for these events included:

Employees were not trained in the recognition of hazards.

Daily inspections of excavations and adjacent areas were not made by a competent person.

No protective system was used for support of trench walls.

Proper access and egress from excavation were not provided.

Employees were not wearing personal protective equipment such as hard hats.

Work was performed in close proximity to overhead power lines.

The spoil pile and equipment were too close to the excavation and created a hazard.

Click here to read the entire hazard alert on the dangers of excavation and trenching.

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