Trench collapse deaths are easily preventable. I’ll say it again: trench collapse deaths are easily preventable. So if they’re preventable, how do they continue to happen every year? Ignorance to safety rules, lack of supervision, pressures of time and money, and sometimes, outright laziness are all factors in trench related deaths and injuries. I’ve been on too many jobsites in my relatively young construction career that have extremely poor procedures for working in trenches and I’ve gotten every excuse in the book. The vast majority don’t even understand the basic requirements. At 4 feet deep, you need to provide a means of egress, at 5 feet deep you need proper protective systems, and keep soil and other materials 2 feet away from the edge of the trench. Those are the basics, everyone should know them.
Despite every construction company’s claim that safety comes first, trench collapse deaths are still happening and, this year, they’re happening way more often. OSHA just released a graphic showing the amount of trench injuries and deaths in each of the past 5 years and 2016 has more deaths than 2014 and 2015 COMBINED (23 in 2016 vs 11 each in 2015 and 2014). Trench collapses happen fast and often have devastating results, as one cubic yard of soil can weigh up to 3,000 pounds.
"Trench deaths have more than doubled nationwide since last year - an alarming and unacceptable trend that must be halted," said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in a press release. "There is no excuse. These fatalities are completely preventable by complying with OSHA standards that every construction contractor should know."
Everyone is responsible for adhering to trench safety standards, as well. Just this year, both a foreman and a general contractor were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after a laborer was killed by a trench collapse in New York. Besides being criminally convicted, companies can also face huge fines for negligence, like a recent $274,359 fine an Ohio company was just given after an employee was crushed to death by a trench collapse in June of 2016. According to OSHA, the company failed to provide trench cave-in protection, failed to protect workers form excavated material failing or rolling into a trench or failing from inside the trench walls, and failed to train workers in recognizing trench hazards.
If you’d like to read more about OSHA’s trenching safety standards, you can do so by clicking here.
Tool box safety talks are super important, but sometimes they can be pretty dry. In order to keep people engaged and committed to jobsite safety, sometimes you have to mix it up a little bit. A construction company in New Zealand has an aspiring rapper on their team and they decided to enlist his help for a safety talk and it’s pretty entertaining. This company isn’t the first company to use rap music to send a message, as Caterpillar also released a rap about their bulldozers.
Communication is key to a safe and productive construction environment. One of the biggest challenges of effective communication on job sites is the complexity and size of the project, which inhibits being able to contact the correct people in a timely manner. Tracking devices have been a hot button issue in construction news for the last few years. Some examples include RFID tag sensors in hard hats, such as the one being used on certain job sites in Washington DC and time sheet applications, which allow employers to track their employee’s locations using the GPS on their phone’s or tablets.
Construction crews in Parma, Idaho were busy working onmulti-story onion shed, when the under construction structure collapsed, sending some that were on the roof down with it. 14 crew members were either on the structure or around it at the time of collapse, but 6 of them were transported to the hospital. First responders on the scene explained that it was lucky that only 6 were injured.
For decades, hard hats have been synonymous with construction job site safety. Their one major flaw, however, is that if workers fall, the hard hat rarely stays on their head, exposing them to possible head injuries resulting from the fall. According to Bloomberg News, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched research campaign to determine their effectiveness in protecting against head and neck injuries. Their findings have not yet been released, but companies have begun to seek out new products, in hopes of reducing injuries.
You may remember a story we shared at the end of June about a rescue of a construction worker who was dangling from a suspended scaffold 15 stories in the air. The Sarasota County Fire Department completed a very skilled rescue, in which one firefighter scaled down the side of the building to the trapped worker, attached him to a harness, and both men were hoisted back up to the roof. The cause of that failure was a snapped line. At that time, the fire chief mentioned that he rarely sees events like this and that only 5 or 6 rescues like this have happened in his 29 year career.
OSHA currently controls over 20 laws that protect workers who file safety complaints against their employer or other employees. In general, whistleblowers are protected against retaliation from their employer.
In January of this year, tragedy struck a Florida construction company when 3 construction workers died while working underground below a newly paved road. After the first worker entered the hole and collapsed after entering the confined space through a manhole, the second went in to rescue him and also collapsed, followed by the third. After a post-incident investigation, OSHA has released their findings, as well as several fines.
In late June, OSHA pushed the enforcement of their 2016 rule which will require employers to electronically submit injury and illness reports from July 1, 2017 to December 1, 2017. At that time it was unknown when the administration would launch the platform to submit the data online, but that has now been decided.
In January of 2017, OSHA released a final rule which greatly reduced the allowable exposure to beryllium, a mineral that can cause deadly lung disease. While not as commonly encountered in the construction industry as other substances that cause terrible lung diseases, like crystalline silica and asbestos, beryllium is linked to a disease called chronic beryllium disease, which kills around 100 people each year. It’s commonly found in coal slag, which is used for sandblasting. According to the New York Times, OSHA estimates that 11,500 construction workers would be affected by OSHA’s reduced exposure limit.
As recently highlighted by several multi-story building fires, contractors should always be prepared in the event a fire starts on a job site. There have been dozens multi-story building fires in the past few years and many were started when the building was topped out. In most cases, the project was completely destroyed, leaving developers and owners to deal with years of delays from insurance claims. A massive five-alarm fire at an Oakland construction site is one of the more recent examples.