Our lead consulting team is spending the week in a class on OSHA Compliance in Trenching, Shoring and Excavation, which really humbles me. Depending on the standard, the probability of sustaining an injury vs being killed can vary greatly. This is NOT the case with the trenching/shoring/excavation standards. If you don’t get the right protection systems in place and there is a cave-in, the chance of survival is less than 5%. What this tells me is that employees aren’t aware of the true hazards associated with working in and around “dirt” and their employers are also in the dark creating an environment likely to end in disaster.
The intricacies associated with soil composition are interesting and go into depths one would never expect (pun intended). The instructors teaching this class are very well trained in the OSHA standards, but what I appreciate even more, is their hands-on knowledge of what these regulations actually look like on the jobsite, why they are in place and why it is critical to have the right balance of field experience mixed with regulation training.
Employers have the responsibility of selecting and assigning their competent persons and they should make this decision with an abundance of care. If I were hiring for this position, I would make absolutely certain the person had the training they claim. This would involve checking references and asking them a set of questions that demonstrate competency. Whether new hire or not, I would ensure they had ongoing training through a company that actually has both the hands-on and regulatory compliance training necessary to really protect those involved.
OSHA indicates that the fatality rate is 112% higher in construction that in general industry for excavation work. We believe this is because the frequency of excavation work is so much greater and the amount of training tends to be lower. Regardless the reason, it is really sad that so many families are losing their loved ones in avoidable accidents. OSHA recently launched a really good e-tool to help employees and employers protect themselves from trenching and excavation incidents in addition to OSHA’s Fatal Four.
There is nothing more disconcerting than finding out an injury or death could be prevented and should have been prevented. We like to view the OSHA standards as best practice ways to prevent injury. They have done the homework for us, we just need to apply the tools.