June 2022, Texas, Two workers were installing a sewer line in a 20 ft deep 2 ft wide trench when the trench collapsed, killing a 20-year-old and a 39-year-old worker. According to OSHA, the company responsible had trench shields on site, but failed to use them.
Trenching is an integral yet commonly misunderstood and mismanaged part of many industries. There were more trench fatalities in the United States in the first six months of 2022, than in the entire year of 2021. As a result, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration is making trench safety a top priority and is cracking down on non-compliance.
Unfortunately, events like the above are not uncommon, and according to OSHA, most trench-related fatalities are preventable. Thankfully, best practices to protect workers in trenches are well established. However, these are three areas companies consistently drop the ball when it comes to trench protection.
Common Trench Safety Mistakes
1) Incorrect protective systems: Cave-ins or collapses of improperly protected trenches are the biggest threat to safety for workers, and it takes only seconds to be buried alive under thousands of pounds of earth.
According to OSHA, trenches 5 feet deep or greater must be protected from cave-in unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. Picking a protective system can be complex, and you must consider many factors, including soil classification, depth, groundwater level, weather, and many other factors.
Two recognized methods of trench protection are:
- Benching, this is one of the most recognized methods of trench protection, it involves excavating the sides of a trench to form horizontal steps. However, many people don’t realize you cannot bench every soil type. For example, type C soils are the most unstable and prone to collapse and, therefore, cannot be benched.
- Trench shielding, this method prevents cave-ins by surrounding workers with pre-constructed aluminum or steel side sheets and adjustable cross members. However, many companies don’t place enough shielding to cover the entire trench area that the worker will occupy, providing only partial protection.
2) Atmospheric testing: Gasses and other hazards can accumulate in low spots within the ground, which can result in adverse health effects for workers. OSHA requires companies to test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gasses when a trench is 4 feet or deeper. Unfortunately, many companies never test their trenches and unknowingly expose their workers to life-threatening risks.
3) Competent trench inspection: Many companies are not conducting mandatory trench inspections and don’t have adequately trained personnel assigned to fulfill this requirement. A competent person is trained to identify trench hazards, soil types, and protective systems and authorized to take corrective action to eliminate risks. These individuals must inspect trenches daily and as conditions change to ensure it is safe to enter.
Safety Through Innovation
Unauthorized workers entering trenches is a recipe for disaster, but how do you prevent it? Controlled access zoning can help protect your workers by ensuring that only fully trained and authorized workers enter dangerous areas.
Controlled access zoning solutions can create and manage zones deep underground, across multiple floors of facilities, or at altitudes via 3-D location awareness when paired with certain wearables and infrastructure. Geofencing solutions that work offline and alert employees of unsafe or PPE-required zones, even in the most remote locations help keep trench and other safety incidents from occurring.
After a cave-in, time is of the essence, and management knowing when an accident has occurred and where employees are located can be the difference between life and death.
Guardhat is pioneering end-to-end connected worker safety solutions for industrial workers. We offer cutting-edge, wearable technology; a proprietary connected worker platform – unrivaled in its ability to ingest, manage and analyze unstructured data; easy-to-deploy monitoring and reporting software; and a growing system of partner integrations.
Guardhat enables companies to monitor worker location, health, and work environment to shorten reaction time and help proactively solve safety challenges. We hold 15 patents in real-time location systems, wearable solution design, and connected worker software.
If you are interested in our connected safety solutions – including situational awareness, environmental and biometric monitoring, lone worker, multi-modal communication, RTLS, and other advanced technology solutions – contact us to arrange a demo.