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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!
OSHA reports that two workers are killed every month in trench collapses. Just recently, OSHA cited two contractors following a trench collapse that buried 22-year-old laborer Carlos Moncayo beneath tons of soil and debris at a Manhattan construction site. OSHA found that Moncayo's death could have been prevented if the general contractor and subcontractor had provided cave-in protection for the trench or braced an adjacent section of undermined and unsupported sidewalk. In connection with Moncayo's death, officials from both companies were indicted for manslaughter and other charges in the New York State Supreme Court on Aug. 5.
"Managers from these companies were aware of these deadly hazards and did not remove employees from the trench, even after warnings from project safety officials."
OSHA issued each employer two citations for willful violations of workplace safety standards on Oct. 5. Proposed fines total $280,000 – $140,000 for each company – the maximum allowable fines under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. A willful violation is committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.
"Carlos Moncayo was a person, not a statistic. His death was completely avoidable. Had the trench been guarded properly against collapse, he would not have died in the cave-in. This unconscionable behavior needlessly and shamefully cost a man his life."
Quotes by Kay Gee, OSHA Area Director-Manhattan
Updated OSHA guide on Trenching and Excavation Safety
Trench and excavation work are among the most hazardous operations in construction. Because one cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car, an unprotected trench can be an early grave. OSHA's updated guide to Trenching and Excavation Safety highlights key elements of the applicable workplace standards and describes safe practices that employers can follow to protect workers from cave-ins and other hazards. A new section in the updated guide addresses safety factors that an employer should consider when bidding on a job. Expanded sections describe maintaining materials and equipment used for worker protection systems as well as additional hazards associated with excavations.
Remember, an unprotected trench can become an early grave. Learn how to keep workers safe. Download these OSHA Guides for details.
READER QUESTION: One of our readers recently asked about rescue requirements in excavations. We did some searching and found an interesting Letter of Interpretation (LOI) from OSHA that explains when rescue provisions are required during trenching operations.
ROCO TECH PANEL ANSWER:
The following is from OSHA LOI in regards to this answer. In regard to whether emergency rescue equipment is required at every trenching job site located
near or passing by a gas station, refinery, gas line, sewer main, etc., please be advised by the following:
Emergency rescue equipment is required to be readily available where a competent person determines, based on the conditions at each job site, that hazardous atmospheric conditions exist or may reasonably be expected to develop during work in an excavation. In regard to whether a contractor can rely on a local rescue squad instead of providing the rescue equipment, please be advised that many emergency situations associated with the hazards involved with hazardous atmospheres in trenches would normally require an immediate response within a few minutes or even seconds. A rescue squad would be unable to provide the necessary response and therefore could not be used to comply with 1926.651(g)(2).
As more and more industrial sites realize that just about every day, somewhere on their property, there is an open trench. Trench collapses cause dozens
of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year. Obviously, this creates concerns, especially for the rescue personnel who may be called to the scene
during an emergency.
We’ve been getting questions from clients that have effective rescue teams for medical, hazmat, fire, confined space and rope but are realizing that they
are lacking if a trench collapse occurs on their site. “Who will do the rescue?” is a question often asked. There is concern by supervisors, who have
been given the responsibility for signing trench permits, but have not had adequate training in trench and excavations. Many are not “competent persons”
as referenced in OSHA1926.651-652.
After looking at the dozen of questions in the referenced LOI, it should raise a few more:
Are the people you have signing off that a trench is constructed properly and safe for entry, trained to know what to look for and have the authority
to act (competent person), or are they assuming that the contractor is “doing the right thing”?
Who will be called if a trench emergency should occur?
Are their local resources that have the training and equipment to respond, or are you an island unto yourself when it comes to trench rescue?
by Dennis O' Connell, Director of Training/Chief Instructor
This IPhone video captured at a recent training exercise is being posted here solely to illustrate the powerful nature of a trench collapse. Instructors were aware that a collapse was imminent and a “safe zone” was established along with other measures that will be discussed in this article. It’s important to note that all students were cleared from the area prior to releasing the struts for the collapse. This video is presented with the intention of helping trainers and rescuers achieve greater safety awareness during training events.
You’ve probably heard the saying “train as you play, and play as you train” many times. However, for rescuers, this training mentality is essential! Rescuers should have the ability to handle a wide variety of events, but must also appreciate the dangers of the job.
Realism is the key to effective training and prepares rescuers both physically and mentally. The more demanding and technical the rescue, the more important it is to simulate the appropriate skills as closely as possible. This realism during training will help rescuers understand what to expect during a real rescue.
This behavior needs to be practiced but must also be balanced with safety as the #1 priority. To avoid injuries, a risk analysis must be conducted and carefully reviewed. This will help in planning the training exercises and in determining possible hazards where students may be most at risk. Everyone involved in the training exercises (including observers) should be informed of the dangers as well as control measures and safety requirements. Everyone should be aware that they have the ability to stop an evolution immediately should a safety concern be detected.
In order for this to happen, an established rescue plan should be devised for each element of training. An example in high angle training would be an “instructor’s line.” A designated instructor/rescuer, an additional line, and equipment should be staged and ready for a rescue, just in case. Teaching stations should also be set up in close proximity to allow for the use of the equipment from one station to another.
In our quest for realism, we need to constantly re-evaluate as the training proceeds. Risk vs. reward…is this training exercise worth the risk?
Now, let’s take a look at some common techniques used to increase pressure for rescuers and evaluate performance during a “simulated” rescue. Time limits are often used to increase stress levels while performing skills. In rope rescue training, knot tying and patient packaging are good examples where time restraints are a useful tool. On the other hand, if you set time restraints or implement a “speed reward” for how fast you can rappel down a building or perform a rescue, it can lead to unsafe actions that can cause injury or even death.
Here’s a deadly example of speed rewards during training. There was a video of tree trimmers taking their final exam. In the video, they were required to climb a ladder into a tree, anchor themselves off and hook up to a rappel line, rappel down to a simulated victim, and then lower themselves to the ground. In the video, the student is being timed, while being offered a reward for speed. In the process of doing so, the student missed a connection, as did the instructor, and fell to his death.
Another interesting means of rescuer stress or pressure that can develop unexpectedly during training is “peer pressure.”
In the same tape, students can be heard encouraging, for lack of a better word, individuals to beat the clock. If used in the correct manner, this friendly competition can be useful, but if not exercised properly, it can be dangerous. Competitive training exercises should be used only within the design of the class. If it develops unexpectedly, it should be shut down. Otherwise, it can quickly create a dangerous learning environment.
Again, the instructor needs to keep the safety of the students in mind and evaluate all potential consequences.
Span of control is “the number of people one can effectively manage.” The more technical or hands on a training course is, the smaller the number of people a single instructor can safely control.
In rope training, techniques (and teaching) may occur at multiple levels on a structure. For example, pick-off techniques or patient packaging in a simulated confined space rescue exercise. Certain techniques may require additional instructors at various levels to monitor students “going over an edge” and at the “pick-off” level. Or, with a confined space scenario, it may require an additional instructor to be physically located in the space to make sure patient packaging connections are correct prior to raising or life-loading the line.
Sometimes with in-house training, personnel can become complacent with double-checking all systems or having that extra set of eyes from an uninvolved participant. That’s why it is so important that every training exercise is carefully planned and followed through in all areas.
When training a group of your peers, it can often be difficult to prevent “freelancing” and to keep everyone on the same page. A well-planned training session will include a review of safety issues at the start – every time! The briefing should explain what will be covered (and allowed or not allowed) during the training. This will help students to understand that it’s more than just a “play” session, and will hopefully reduce the temptation for freelance activities.
It’s important for trainers and rescuers alike to watch this video. The training is being conducted in a live trench, which is definitely more realistic and more real world than setting trench panels between two containers. It is also more dangerous! The instructor ratio, training, and skills must be competent for the task. Acceptable conditions must be re-evaluated constantly and discussed between instructors. In some cases, like this one, a dangerous condition can be presented when students remove trench panels and equipment. This is the time to stop a class and halt all operations.
During this particular session, there was a large crack or separation in the dirt, which made the weight of the dirt unstable. As you will see, this caused the collapse of a large portion of the trench wall. In this particular situation, it was simply not worth trying to recover the trench panels at the cost of safety. The students were informed of the danger, how it was detected, and how it could be resolved.
Just remember… no piece of equipment or gear is worth injuring a student or instructor!
After everyone was informed of the danger of an impending collapse, the decision was made to let the wall collapse and to video it as a learning tool for that class and future classes. This video will give you a very clear picture of the speed and force that can occur in a trench collapse.
As you can see, the proper precautions were taken during this exercise in order to demonstrate the incredible power of a trench collapse.
An emergency plan was developed. A safety officer designated areas of safety as well as areas of dangers for students, instructors and observers. In order to maintain the stability of the opposing trench wall, a decision was made to keep a couple of other trench panels in place. A backhoe was used to slope sections of the trench and create a “safe zone” for the instructor to remove the struts, which in turn let the wall collapse. The force of the dirt was so powerful that it snapped a ¾-inch shore form panel and a 2" x 12" strongback like a toothpick.
What you won’t get from the video is the sense of force or vibration that was felt when the trench wall collapsed. It’s something the students will take away from the training along with a much greater respect for the power of a trench wall collapse.
Again, we stress that constant re-evaluation of conditions during technical rescue training is critically important for the safety of all involved. Instructors must have the ability to perceive any differences in the training environment or situation, be able to identify unacceptable conditions, and to take quick, corrective action. Students should also have the ability to stop a training evolution if they perceive danger or have concerns. It’s always best to stop and re-check everything!
Many times, it’s as simple as letting the students know if they see something that they think is dangerous or not quite right, or if they don’t quite understand, just yell, “STOP!”
This video is a great learning tool that illustrates what can happen during “live trench” training. It dramatically demonstrates the speed and force of a trench wall collapse. However, it also affirms that with proper attention to the training environment and changing conditions, injury can be avoided.
It’s similar to personnel who have been exposed to swift water rescue in real world environments. They take away a much greater respect for the power of moving water, and it cannot be simulated in a swimming pool. Or, with high angle training, while it’s the same technique, rappelling from height versus a one-story building is a totally different experience.
As instructors, we must develop training that will give our students the experience and skills needed to perform their jobs safely. But we also need to keep them safe during training as well. Use this video and the story behind it to emphasize safety and proper planning during training sessions. It also helps us to realize that being a trainer or instructor comes with great responsibility. For me, it’s a constant battle between two thoughts: “No one should get injured during training,” versus “let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down.”
The need to develop safety plans and perform risk analysis during training is an important part of our job as instructors, and student safety is our #1 priority.
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