United Rentals Shares 5 Toolbox Talk Topics on Trench Hazards and Safe Work Practices

Toolbox talk topics were compiled to help companies increase worker knowledge about trench hazards and safe work practices in trenching and excavation operations.

United Rentals Trench Safety 1
United Rentals 10893270

Because trench and excavation operations are among the most dangerous jobs in the construction and utility industries, each year the Trench Safety Stand Down is held to encourage companies to discuss with workers the risks of working in trench and excavations. In support of this effort, which is taking place June 14 to 18, United Rentals, Inc. (URI) has compiled a list of five toolbox talk topics centered around increasing worker knowledge about trench hazards and safe work practices.

URI has long been an advocate of the use of regular toolbox talks as part of an overall safety program. 

“Safety is our No. 1 priority at United Rentals,” said Todd Hayes, Trench Safety Region Vice President at URI. “We engage our customers to help mitigate risk and improve production on underground construction projects by providing education and training about regulations, along with a partnership on shoring solutions. By dedicating time to a safety program that includes jobsite ‘toolbox talks,’ companies provide an out of the classroom overview of the regulations, as well as a review of the hazards, and a plan to protect every employee from the hazards so they can work safely in and around trenches and excavations.”

Following are the topics URI shared in its press release. It adds that these are just a sampling of the many topics that can help keep safety top of mind for workers.

1. Protecting Underground Installations

Existing utilities are everywhere, and hitting them while digging is extremely hazardous. Scratching the coating on a gas pipeline can cause line failure. Hitting fiber optic lines can cause severe disruption to every industry. Damage prevention is key.

Make sure to call a locate service through 811, which is the national call-before-you-dig phone number. Even if the project is on private property where the property owner does not own the utility, and even if it is in a submerged setting like a swamp or a lake. Know the state law regarding how much time to give to owners to respond and a locate service will come out and mark the approximate location of those utilities.

When the lines have been marked, use care when digging around any utility so as to not disturb or damage the line. Fines for digging without having called for the appropriate locates are significant even if nothing is hit. Know the law and refer to OSHA Standard 1926 Subpart P – call before digging.

2. Provide Proper Access and Egress

In every trench of four or more feet in depth, a ramp, ladder or other safe means of access and egress must be in place any time employees are in a trench. An employee must be able to exit a trench safely at any time without depending on assistance from someone else to get out.

In a trench excavation, point of egress must be within 25 ft. of every worker, according to OSHA Standard 1926 Subpart P. If an earthen ramp is the access/egress choice, the employee must not be exposed to a potential cave-in and the earthen ramp must allow for the employee to enter and exit in a normal, upright orientation. Likewise, if a ladder is the choice, the employee must be able to access the ladder without being put at risk of a cave-in.

3. Test for Hazardous Atmospheres

Trenches and excavations are not automatically considered confined spaces, according to OSHA Trench and Excavation Safety. In every trench or excavation that is 4 or more feet in depth, where there is a potential for a hazardous atmosphere to exist, then that atmosphere must be tested. The tests would include oxygen deficiency or enrichment, and testing the atmosphere for flammable gas concentrations that would be in excess of 20% of the lower flammable limit of the gas.

United Rentals Trench Safety 5Where those situations are found, adequate ventilation is required to reduce the atmospheric contaminants to an acceptable level, and testing shall continue as needed to ensure the atmosphere remains safe. Also, emergency rescue equipment (davit arms, basket stretchers, harnesses) shall be readily available where hazardous atmospheres exist, or could develop, during the work.

Most would think it reasonable to find a potential for hazardous atmospheres while performing sewer work. If there are unique gases in an environment, like a refinery or chemical plant, ensure that monitors are configured to test for those gases.

4. Performing Inspections

Before the beginning of work, or during work after a hazard increasing occurrence takes place, the Competent Person shall perform an inspection of the protective system and the adjacent area, and test the atmosphere to ensure no hazardous conditions exist. Where hazards are found, the Competent Person shall ensure that corrective measures are taken to eliminate the hazards prior to the restart of the work.

What could be a hazard increasing event? It could be the addition of a significant surcharge, movement of a protective system, a rainstorm, a nearby gas leak or a breach of a sewer line, just to name a few. Refer to OSHA Standard 1926 Subpart P for more details.

5. Providing Fall Protection

When an employee is permitted or allowed to cross over a trench and the depth of the trench is 6 ft. or more, then a walkway with guardrails 42 in. high (+/- 3 in.), midrails at least 21 in. high, and meeting the other specific requirements in OSHA Fall Protection found in 1926.502(b), must be used. Also, if the trench is not readily visible due to any visual barrier, then fall protection must be provided that meets the requirements found in OSHA 1926.502.

Visit OSHA Standard 1926 Subparts P and M for more information.

Information provided by United Rentals, Inc. and edited by Becky Schultz.