“Just take this trench box and try it,” encouraged Tim Ellison of equipment dealer Knickerbocker-Russell in Pittsburgh, PA. “If you decide you want it, then pay for the rental or buy it later.”
When Craig Davey, a sewer contractor and owner of Davey Plumbing in Pittsburgh, agreed to try the trench box, he couldn’t have foreseen the importance of his choice. Twice in that week, the 6-ft.-tall by 8-ft.-long by 4-ft.-wide Corru-Lite aluminum corrugated trench box from Efficiency Production, Inc. (EPI) saved the lives of three Davey Plumbing employees, including Davey himself.
“I’ve been a contractor for 20 years and I take every hole seriously,” Davey says. “We’ve since had countless jobs with cave-ins where the box saved us. I am a true believer in shoring. We depend on it heavily and the bottom line is that without it we couldn’t do our job.”
Proper trench shoring clearly can save lives — failure to use it can cost them. In 2003, OSHA investigated 53 trench-related fatalities; 36 were due to trench collapses, most occurring in trenches that were 5 to 9 ft. deep. This doesn’t include trench-related injuries, which are difficult to track.
With soil weighing in at about 120 lbs. per cubic foot, it doesn’t take much to crush bones, apply sufficient pressure on the chest to cause suffocation, or even bury a worker. Implementing proper trench protection will protect workers from the hazards of a soil collapse or cave-in. It will also protect your business from the potential consequences of a trench-related incident.
“It is mandatory from OSHA, and the fines are so great that if you don’t have it you’re in trouble,” Ellison emphasizes. “You can basically buy some type of shoring for the cost of getting one fine from OSHA.”
The high cost of failure
Failing to provide adequate trench protection can result in severe consequences for your business, especially if a worker is killed. “[The contractor] opens himself up for criminal and civil litigation — lawsuits from the family members or, in cases of negligence, potential jail time, depending on his past OSHA citations and what was going on at the jobsite,” says Dennis Parker, Griswold Machine and Engineering (GME). “He could also be caught without shoring and shielding and face severe fines. I’ve heard of fines as high as $150,000 to $200,000 for just having one or two people in the trench, depending on whether or not he has provided safety training and all that stuff that has to go with it.”
There are other long-term impacts. “Insurance carriers frown on this sort of thing. Your insurance rate might skyrocket or you might not be able to get any insurance at all,” says Ken Forsberg, president of EPI. “Not only that, it doesn’t do much for your reputation.”
Beyond the safety-related aspects, trying to get by with inadequate trench protection can be a waste of time, not to mention money. “Without protecting the trench the right way, [contractors] lose time if they’re trying to slope it back,” says Ron Wey of Pro-Tec Equipment. It can also undercut or undermine nearby structures. “Even though no workers might be injured or there are no workers in harm’s way, they may lose a significant part of the adjacent work site,” he states.
“If the soil was to fall or cave in, they might lose part of the sidewalk, road or curb and that’s going to cost somebody. Normally, the contractor has to bear the brunt of that.”
Making trench safety easier
Over the last decade, it’s become easier to comply with OSHA’s trenching standards. Today, companies that manufacture and sell trench boxes are often very helpful when it comes to providing assistance. Many offer classes in trench safety and competent person training, one-on-one consultations or other programs to help you choose the most efficient route to compliance.