Trenches and excavation work activities are recognized by OSHA as one of the most hazardous construction work conditions with a fatality rate that is more than double that for general construction. Exposure to each of OSHA’s “focus 4” hazards - falls, electrocution, struck by and caught in between - is possible when performing this type of work.
Soil wall cave-ins resulting in suffocation or injuries from compression shock syndrome
Falling loads or spoil piles
Falling undermined structures or objects (surface encumbrances)
Heavy equipment hazards
Traffic and roadway work zone hazards
Hazardous atmospheres - oxygen deficient, toxic and flammable
Water hazards - reduced soil cohesion and drowning potential
Electrocution or explosions from underground utility damage
OSHA’s Excavation Standard requires that employers initiate and maintain a written trench safety program, conduct training of employees exposed to these hazards, and designate a “competent person”. This is a person who is knowledgeable in trenching hazards and is authorized to take prompt action to protect employees. While their duties typically involve determining soil types and suitable cave-in protection, establishing proper access and egress methods, performing daily and as-needed inspections, it could also involve what actions are necessary in the event of contact with underground utilities.
Underground utility damage prevention is primarily handled by contacting the Oregon Utility Notification Center by calling 811 at least two days prior to any dirt work. Once all the utilities have located and approximately identified their lines, mechanical digging can begin but must be reduced to hand digging methods when approaching 24 inches of either side of the utility painted markings. (The 24 inches is measured not from the center of the line, but rather from the outside edges of the utility cable, pipe or conduit.)
In the event an underground utility is damaged,* actions will vary depending on the type of utility, the location - rural or public setting - and the severity of damage. In general, clear the area and keep your distance. Be mindful of substances as gas, sewer, water and electricity can each pose unique hazards. Contact the serving utility company, as well as 911 in the event of a gas leak. Don’t risk trying to be a hero and attempt to fix the damage.
The NIETC can assist contractors with written program requirements. Trench hazard awareness training is part of every OSHA 10/30 course and for your new employees, or for refresher training, toolbox talks on trench hazards and emergency response is also available.
*A bit of irony, as the day I wrote this article the NIETC was without phone and internet service due to nearby backhoe work and damaged fiber lines.
It is hard to believe that another year has nearly passed since the 2015 NECA Convention. In a few days, over 60 members and guests from our local NECA chapters, the NIETC, and a few supporting vendors will gather in Boston to experience a variety of educational and professional development programs, including one of my favorites, the Trade Show.
While there can be a bit of repetition with certain product lines, I have always found a number of new tools, materials and electrical installation methods to increase productivity and safety at the show. However, there are new concepts which are sometimes difficult to see the application in our typical construction setting. For those who were in San Francisco last year, do you recall seeing this young man?
I don’t mean Jeff Holmes, but rather the man walking the show floor with the Ekso-Bionics exoskeleton frame, spring assist tool support.
While fixed industry has employed the use of tool balancers and similar ergonomic devices, it seemed to me that donning this superhero looking rigid harness on our job sites really wouldn’t be practical.
I could be wrong. A recent study found measurable increases in productivity, work quality, and reduced fatigue when using exoskeleton devices during construction like tasks. Furthermore, the author predicts these devices “will be widely used in people’s lives in 15 years.” We will see.
In the meantime, other options are becoming available which provide similar benefits but are paired with mechanical equipment rather than being worn on the body. United Rentals now offers aerial lifts, with manufacturer approved accessories, that can support a variety of tools used for overhead work or repetitive tasks.
One such option, the Eksoaerial system, is pictured below..
In a previous article, I reported on OSHA’s notice of proposed rule making which would adjust citation penalty amounts annually to account for inflation. Furthermore, the agency would be allowed a one time “catch up” adjustment for the 25 years the penalty amounts remained fixed. Due to this lengthy time period, it was speculated that the current citation amounts could be increased by as much as 80%.
OSHA has now determined that maximum penalties will increase by 78%, effective August 1, 2016. Going forward, the agency will continue to adjust its penalties for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index. Any citations issued by OSHA after that date will be subject to the new penalties if the related violations occurred after November 2, 2015.
To provide guidance to field staff on the implementation of the new penalties, OSHA will issue revisions to its Field Operations Manual by August 1. To address the impact of these penalty increases on smaller businesses, OSHA will continue to provide penalty reductions based on the size of the employer and other factors.
States that operate their own Occupational Safety and Health Plans must have an enforcement program for those standards that are at least as effective as federal OSHA’s standards and enforcement program. In order to satisfy this requirement, OSHA has specifically directed that all 22 State Plans regulating private sector employers must adopt penalties that are equal to or greater than those implemented by Federal OSHA.
Interestingly, OSHA established no deadline for such adoption. Typically, State Plans have up to 6 months to implement new, or revised, OSHA standards. Oregon, recognized as a State Plan with the lowest citation penalty amounts in the Nation, will have to adjust their penalties in a manner which will satisfy the “as effective” OSHA mandate. How exactly they will do that is unknown at this time. I will provide an update on OR and WA OSHA citation amounts as more information becomes available.
IBEW Local 48 labor representatives and Oregon-Columbia Chapter NECA Safety Managers meet monthly to discuss jobsite safety concerns, review new safety regulations and develop industry best practices to elevate safety for our industry. The committee was recognized at the 2009 Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference for their achievements in working together to solve difficult safety challenges. Committee meetings every other evenly numbered month, on the third Thursday at 2:30 PM in the NIETC conference room.
Safety Tool Box Talks are used in the workplace to address site specific safety concerns. They can be used to document initial and refresher training as well as inform other subs or GCs of workplace safety concerns. The NIETC Safety Talks are organized by topic and month but can be used in any manner that best fits your needs.
Within OSHA standards there are many applications that require employers to train their employees to different levels of competency depending upon the degree of hazard, exposure or level of responsibility. Examples include general awareness training, competent person training, qualified person training and proof of training and competency through a formal certification process. The NIETC provides a wide variety of safety training, some of which qualifies or certifies the students to perform specific tasks.