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Gravedigger Engulfed In Cave-in of Unguarded Grave

Monday, January 04, 2016
“A Trench is a Trench is a Trench”

An employee of a cemetery in Farmingdale, New York, was seriously injured on May 7, 2015, when the walls of the grave opening in which he was working collapsed and buried him up to his waist.

An inspection by the Long Island Area Office of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the excavation and its support systems lacked adequate protection against cave-ins and the excavation had not been inspected to identify such deficiencies. Other hazards included damaged equipment and the placement of excavated soil on the edge of the unprotected trench. These conditions exposed employees to the hazards of cave-in, engulfment and struck-by injuries.

This worker literally came close to an early grave because the cemetery failed to provide proper excavation protections. 

“This cave-in could have been prevented if proper and legally required trenching safety procedures had been followed by the employer,” said Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA’s Long island (NY) area director. “It is imperative that cemeteries ensure that workers at all its cemeteries are protected against cave-in hazards and ensure that an incident such as this does not happen again in the future.”

OSHA cited the company on Nov. 5, 2015, for two willful and three serious violations of workplace safety standards.

Roco Comments from Dennis O’Connell, Director of Training:

You may think of this is an unusual circumstance, a once in a lifetime event. Sorry, but you’re wrong. During my tenure as a rescuer in NYC, I responded to a number of these jobs, and they present some additional hazards that are not associated with most trench rescue jobs.

You can call it what you want, but a grave is a trench. And the location can make a big difference in terms of hazards presented. For example, I have a house in NY and one in Louisiana – in South Louisiana, we try to bury people above ground, if possible! However, in places like NY, cemetery space is so limited. It’s like high-rises in the city, our cemetery family plots bury multiple family members usually 3 on top of the other, which is referred to as a triple depth grave. This pushes the grave depth to about 8 feet for the first entombment.

So, no matter what you call it – a trench is a trench, and we need to follow OSHA 1926.651-652 requirements for protecting workers. Let’s look at some of the grave/trench basics before we move on to the specific grave hazard. If we dig an excavation that is longer than it is wide, it is a considered a trench – if it is 4’ or deeper, you need to have a ladder or other means of egress for workers; if it is 5’ or deeper, you need to install a protective system.

You must have a Competent Person, as defined by OSHA, to determine what system is adequate and that it is installed properly. They must also inspect the trench and surrounding area for hazards before workers can enter the trench. Of course, there’s a lot more to digging a trench and the responsibilities of the competent person but you get the idea.

Also, just because a trench is only 7’ long and 3’ wide, this does not change the rules or responsibilities associated with digging a trench. If you’re digging a trench, you need to have that competent person; you need to understand the requirements of 1926.651-652; and you need to know who will respond if you have a trench emergency. Keep in mind, most municipal departments, especially volunteer departments, do not have the training or equipment to respond to a trench collapse.

Ok, the added hazard to a grave collapse rescue is the headstone at the end of the grave – depending on the size, they can weigh over 1,000lbs. If it has fallen in the grave on top of the victim, then you will need to use technical rescue techniques and equipment to lift and free the victim. If it is still on the edge, you will need to support, stabilize or remove it before rescuers can work under it. So, even an innocent grave, can be the scene of a complicated technical trench rescue.

Bottom line… if you are digging trenches for whatever reason, or you have contractors digging trenches on your property, you need to be aware of the requirements of 1926.651-652, have a “competent person,” and identify who you are going to call if a collapse happens.

FYI, you need to have 2.9 feet of soil above the casket top. Some say that it’s a public health law. Between you and me, I think it’s to keep Zombies from escaping!

Here is an OSHA fact sheet to help you better understand some of the requirements. OSHA Fact Sheet - Trenching and Excavation Safety

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Incident: Two Workers Buried in Trench Collapse

Monday, August 03, 2015

Here’s another reminder of how quickly a trench can turn deadly and how important it is to be prepared. Is your rescue team prepared for such an incident?

When firefighters arrived at the scene of a construction trench collapse near Covington (Louisiana) back in May, they could see two pairs of feet sticking out of the wet, sandy clay at the bottom of the 10-foot-deep trench. But only one voice was calling for help.

The frantic rescue effort that followed, interrupted by safety concerns and bad weather, would bring one man safely to the surface. His co-worker did not survive.

Firefighters immediately jumped in and began trying to dig the men out from nearly a foot of dirt that had tumbled down on top of them from the sides of the trench. But as the operation dragged on, they realized that being in the trench could compound the danger. The depth of the hole combined with the sandy clay made for a perilous work situation. Moreover, huge piles of excavated dirt loomed over the side of the trench, adding to fears of another collapse.

The weather didn’t help. During the rescue, a rainstorm drenched the area and then was replaced by baking sun.

To lower the risk, firefighters had to delay rescue efforts while others brought in sheets of plywood to reinforce the sides of the trench. A ladder was laid across the top and another was lowered to the bottom. Firemen tossed water down to their comrades, and a large vacuum truck was brought in to suction out debris.

Two hours after the firefighters arrived, the surviving worker — stripped of his clothes except for a pair of blue and red striped shorts — was placed into a rescue basket and lifted slowly to the lip of the trench. He was immediately tended to by emergency medical technicians, who transferred him to a stretcher.

The injured worker, who has not been named, was alert throughout the rescue and was able to speak with the men working to free him, officials said.

But there were fears that his medical condition could deteriorate quickly after he was pulled from the dirt. The weight of the soil could have been acting like a “big tourniquet,” said St. Tammany Coroner Charles Preston, an emergency physician. In that type of situation, he said, when the pressure caused by a heavy weight is removed, the flow of blood throughout an injured body can cause severe problems.

In this case, however, Preston said the worker was doing as well as could be expected, adding that his belly was soft, which indicated that the weight of the earth had not prevented his blood from flowing while he was buried.

Once the worker was taken away, the operation turned from rescue to recovery. The body of a 24-year-old was removed about 5 p.m., after more than four hours of being buried in the trench.

Sheriff Jack Strain, briefing reporters after the first worker had been removed, said his office would investigate whether all proper safety protocols had been followed at the site. Strain noted the presence of three trench boxes — large metal frames with two panel sides connected by thick bars — stacked just feet from where the collapse occurred but said there were none at the cave-in site itself.

“I don’t know why those weren’t in the ground, but those things will be looked into,” Strain said. State agencies may also investigate the incident, he said.

(Excerpts, photos and videos from a story in The New Orleans Advocate by Faimon A. Roberts III - click to read full story)


Preparation is Key

Is your agency or rescue team prepared for this type of incident? Who will be responsible for performing the rescue, and how quickly can they respond? Do they have the proper equipment and training to do the job while protecting themselves?

Also, do you have the availability of advanced life support personnel who can respond to the scene? Injuries sustained from trench incidents can be more severe (internal) than just bruising and broken bones. Crush Syndrome/Compartmentalization Syndrome can kill a “rescued” victim!

Keep in mind, someone was responsible for acting as the Competent Person at this site, or at least, should have been. Are your supervisors properly trained to identify potential trench hazards? If you use contractors, do you assume they have the proper training and equipment while they are working on your site?

Don’t underestimate the dangers of trench work – or the dangers posed to emergency response personnel. Make sure your people are prepared! Learn the latest trench safety and rescue techniques at our upcoming Trench Rescue Course at the Roco Training Center, September 9-11, 2015.

 

 

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Incident: Alaska Calls for Increased Focus on Trench Safety

Monday, July 06, 2015

In response to the death of a 23-year-old construction worker in a trenching incident in Anchorage, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development is highlighting the importance of training workers on safe trench work and excavations.

State regulations require employers to ensure workers are trained to recognize and avoid hazards related to any trench work or excavations in which the depth of the site is at least 4 feet. Employers also must make sure workers adequately enter and exit trenches, in addition to taking proper measures for shoring and sloping protection.

An Anchorage Fire Department search-and-rescue team, police and medics responded to the incident shortly after 1 p.m. on June 16, 2015.

The construction worker had been working on a sewer pipe in a trench that measured roughly 7 feet deep by 15 feet across when it collapsed and buried him. His co-workers tried to extricate him and did get him out of the trench, but his injuries were just too severe. The 23-year-old victim died at the scene.

OSHA has launched an investigation into the workplace accident according to a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Sources: National Safety Council Newsletter (nsc.org) and Alaska Dispatch News (adn.com).
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Fast-Track 120 Students Put Skills to Test in Recovery Operation

Friday, August 09, 2013

During a recent Roco Fast-Track 120 class in Albuquerque, New Mexico, two of our students got to use the skills they had just learned during a real world event. On Day 6 of the 12-day class, NM State Police Tactical officers Hugo Munoz and Jose Urbano received a call for assistance in the recovery of an individual that had been swept into one of the many arroyos that crisscross the region following a sudden rainstorm.

Here’s a photo from the Fast-Track 120 class where Officer Urbano is shown “rescuing” Officer Munoz.

The officers responded and found the local fire and law enforcement personnel on scene in the process of devising a plan to recover the victim who was entrapped under a narrow bridge in approximately 6 feet of water. Officer Urbano and Munoz joined in the planning and recommended using some of the rope techniques that they had just learned in the Fast-Track 120 class.

The recovery plan involved the use of a mainline attached to the NM State Police Diver and a 4:1 rigged and ready to be “piggybacked” on the main line in case the diver needed immediate retrieval.

The Diver attached a second line to the recovery bag that was placed around the victim, and the Diver exited the arroyo. Officers Munoz and Urbano attached the 4:1 to the victim’s line and removed the individual from the arroyo. All of the systems used were anchored to multiple vehicles that had responded to the scene.

“Obviously, this makes us very proud that our students can take the techniques learned in our classes and put them to immediate use. Unfortunately, this was a recovery operation. However, we hope that everyone involved was just a little bit safer thanks to the training and capabilities of Officers Urbano and Munoz,” stated Roco Chief Instructor Tim Robson, who led the 120-hour training class.

 

Here's a photo of the scene of the recovery near an arroyo in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

An arroyo is defined as a small, deep gully or channel of an ephemeral stream. Arroyos usually have relatively flat floors and are flanked by steep sides consisting of unconsolidated sediments. They are usually dry except after heavy rainfall. In this area, there are several miles of open-air concrete lined drainage channels that drain an area into the main North Diversion Channel, a tributary of the Rio Grande joining upstream of Albuquerque.

Signs are posted at the constructed arroyos warning to keep out due to danger of flash flooding and other obvious dangers.

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Lanyard Safety

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Here's a question from one of our readers: How can you test a lanyard to determine if it is safe to use? Is there a standard checklist or procedure?

Answer from the Roco Tech Panel: As with all safety and rescue gear, we recommend that you inspect, use and care for it in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Of course, all equipment should be carefully inspected before and after each use. And, as we always say, “If there’s any doubt, throw it out!” Sometimes it’s less expensive to simply replace the gear versus going through any elaborate testing process. We did find the following information regarding lanyard inspections in an “OSHA Quick Takes” document. Thank you for your question!

Lanyard Inspection

To maintain their service life and high performance, all belts and harnesses should be inspected frequently. Visual inspection before each use should become routine, and also a routine inspection by a competent person. If any of the conditions listed below are found, the equipment should be replaced before being used.

When inspecting lanyards, begin at one end and work to the opposite end. Slowly rotate the lanyard so that the entire circumference is checked. Spliced ends require particular attention. Hardware should be examined under procedures detailed below.

HARDWARE
Snaps: Inspect closely for hook and eye distortion, cracks, corrosion, or pitted surfaces. The keeper or latch should seat into the nose without binding and should not be distorted or obstructed. The keeper spring should exert sufficient force to firmly close the keeper. Keeper rocks must provide the keeper from opening when the keeper closes.

Thimbles: The thimble (protective plastic sleeve) must be firmly seated in the eye of the splice, and the splice should have no loose or cut strands. The edges of the thimble should be free of sharp edges, distortion, or cracks.

LANYARDS
Steel Lanyard:
While rotating a steel lanyard, watch for cuts, frayed areas, or unusual wear patterns on the wire. The use of steel lanyards for fall protection without a shock-absorbing device is not recommended.

Web Lanyard: While bending webbing over a piece of pipe, observe each side of the webbed lanyard. This will reveal any cuts or breaks. Due to the limited elasticity of the web lanyard, fall protection without the use of a shock absorber is not recommended.

Rope Lanyard: Rotation of the rope lanyard while inspecting from end to end will bring to light any fuzzy, worn, broken or cut fibers. Weakened areas from extreme loads will appear as a noticeable change in original diameter. The rope diameter should be uniform throughout, following a short break-in period. When a rope lanyard is used for fall protection, a shock-absorbing system should be included.

Shock-Absorbing Packs
The outer portion of the shock-absorbing pack should be examined for burn holes and tears. Stitching on areas where the pack is sewn to the D-ring, belt or lanyard should be examined for loose strands, rips and deterioration.

VISUAL INDICATIONS OF DAMAGE

Heat
In excessive heat, nylon becomes brittle and has a shriveled brownish appearance. Fibers will break when flexed and should not be used above 180 degrees Fahrenheit.

Chemical
Change in color usually appears as a brownish smear or smudge. Transverse cracks appear when belt is bent over tight. This causes a loss of elasticity in the belt.

Ultraviolet Rays
Do not store webbing and rope lanyards in direct sunlight, because ultraviolet rays can reduce the strength of some material.

Molten Metal or Flame
Webbing and rope strands may be fused together by molten metal or flame. Watch for hard, shiny spots or a hard and brittle feel. Webbing will not support combustion, nylon will.

Paint and Solvents
Paint will penetrate and dry, restricting movements of fibers. Drying agents and solvents in some paints will appear as chemical damage.

CLEANING FOR SAFETY AND FUNCTION

Basic care for fall protection safety equipment will prolong and endure the life of the equipment and contribute toward the performance of its vital safety function. Proper storage and maintenance after use is as important as cleaning the equipment of dirt, corrosives or contaminants. The storage area should be clean, dry and free of exposure to fumes or corrosive elements.

Nylon and Polyester
Wipe off all surface dirt with a sponge dampened in plain water. Squeeze the sponge dry. Dip the sponge in a mild solution of water and commercial soap or detergent. Work up a thick lather with a vigorous back and forth motion. Then wipe the belt dry with a clean cloth. Hang freely to dry but away from excessive heat.

Drying
Harness, belts and other equipment should be dried thoroughly without exposure to heat, steam or long periods of sunlight.

For the complete OSHA Quick Takes document, click here.

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