Excavation/trenching work is inherently dangerous. Prior to starting work at a jobsite, employees must be informed of the potential hazards that may exist in their work environment. In addition to knowing how to recognize hazards, they need to know how to avoid unsafe conditions. OSHA and State safety regulations require employers to train and educate workers to recognize and protect themselves from hazardous conditions. How can an employer expect their people to work safely if they are not aware of what constitutes an unsafe condition and/or what conditions exist?
Even though one job may seem similar to the next, conditions can often vary. While the previous jobsite may have been located where there was little traffic, the next one could be on a very busy street. Conditions will be different from site to site. Your crews need to be reminded about and prepared to work safety amidst changing conditions.
You might have heard employers, managers, foremen, and crew leaders say that safety is “just a matter of common sense.” When it comes to the unique hazards found around underground construction jobsites, that’s not always the case. Everyone in the industry should at minimum be provided with a safety orientation so they are aware of the hazards commonly found at jobsites involving excavations.
Utility construction contractors are struggling to find and retain skilled people to fill crews. This has created a need to hire workers who do not have all the skills and safety training necessary for the underground construction industry. In addition, the underground construction industry has experienced an influx of people who speak Spanish, presenting training challenges for employers without Spanish-speaking trainers.
The concentration of Spanish-speaking workers who perform excavation and trenching activities are not limited to the South and U.S – Mexico border states. Today we are seeing a significant number of Spanish-speaking crews in the mid-Atlantic, mid-western, and western states, and the trend northward is expected to continue. Due to this growing population, there is an increased need for safety training in both English and Spanish.
Statistics show that most accidents occur within the first six months of employment. Safety professionals believe that orientations are necessary to help ensure the safety of a new employee, especially workers who are new to the industry. However, new yet experienced employees should not be excluded from training. Companies should design orientations around the assumption that new hires have no safety training.
To address the above issues, the NUCA Foundation developed an Excavation Safety Orientation Program, which is available from NUCA. The simple program is provided in both English and Spanish, flexible, and easy to use. The entire orientation takes approximately 1½ hours to complete. Although the program was designed as a self-study, interactive, computer-based program, it can easily be used by an instructor in a classroom environment.
Overcoming the language barrier is not enough. The literacy level of those entering the utility construction market has created a growing training challenge. The orientation program has been designed so that people at all levels can understand the message, even if they cannot read. The program has addressed this problem by using pictures and video clips accompanied by audio in English or Spanish to convey the necessary information.
In the utility construction industry, the goal of a safety orientation is to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from cave-ins, falling materials, being struck-by materials and equipment, confined space entry, and other common hazards found around the average trench site. This program is a valuable orientation tool and a good way to ensure that all workers are educated about possible hazards and how to avoid or prevent them.
Even though we completed the sixth annual NUCA Trench Safety Stand Down this year, there is still a lot to be done to prevent our people from placing their lives on the line. Employers need to provide the equipment to ensure that their people are protected and the employees need to understand that they are not expected to enter into any unprotected trench for any reason – even short-term entry for a minute or two can result in an injury or fatality.
By focusing on all employees engaged in excavation activity – not just the foreman or competent person – the orientation program is designed to help contractors reach everyone. The program can be ordered from NUCA’s website.
NUCA members have always had the attitude that “We Dig Safely” and expect our workers to go home to their families at the end of every workday. Let’s continue to ensure that workers are our most important asset by educating them to work safely.
- The Excavation Safety Orientation Program contains information about the following:
- Employer and employee rights and responsibilities
- Personal protective equipment
- Entering and exiting the excavation safely
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Working near the edge of a trench
- Cave-ins and protective systems
- Rigging, lifting, and material handling
- Working near traffic
- Existing utilities
- Jobsite drainage
- Confined-space entry, and
- Personal safety