2024 Trench Safety Stand Down Week

Elizabeth Ruiz, Maintenance World Editor

Posted 6/9/2024

Since 2016, the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) has held “Trench Safety Month” focusing on safety for trench and excavation work. OSHA is currently putting the spotlight on Trench Safety Stand Down (TSSD) Week to promote this initiative. The Trenching and Excavation Safety Taskforce (TEST) is also supporting. With the recent increase in utility projects, the goal is to promote safety training across the utility construction industry. (1) This newsletter covers TSSD week and provides trench drain maintenance tips for after the trenching is done.

Images courtesy NUCA and OSHA

Safety Stand Down is an event planned for employers to have a direct discussion with employees about safety. The Trench Safety Stand Down (the week of June 17-21) focuses on trench and excavation hazards while reinforcing the importance of using trench protective systems and protecting workers from hazards related to trenching. 

The goal of the TSSD is to reach as many workers as possible to provide information about safety procedures for working in trenches. By getting this information out there, NUCA hopes to reduce fatalities and serious injuries in the field. Click here for trench safety resource documents, such as a daily excavation checklist. (2)

Last year’s TSSD boasted over 25,800 industry workers and first responders participating across over 2,480 job sites. (1) If your organization is participating in Trench Safety Stand Down Week and wants to be recognized with a Certificate of Participation, click here. (2)

Trench Worker Safety

The greatest and most likely hazard to workers from trenching and excavation work is injury from a cave-in. Other potential hazards to consider are exposure to hazardous atmospheres, slips and falls, electrocution, and workers being struck by heavy equipment, falling loads, or public vehicle traffic. Before beginning trench work, do a soil analysis to determine the correct employee protection method for safety from cave-ins. (4) (5)

The 4 main methods are as follows:

  • Sloping – cutting the sides of the trench at an incline to create a slope
  • Benching – cutting horizontal slide slopes in steps along the wall of the trench
  • Shoring – bracing the trench walls with a support system to support the structure until the end of the job
  • Shielding – installing a trench shield or box to protect workers from the weight of the soil if a cave-in does occur (5)

It is also vital to locate any underground power/electrical lines and consider overhead power lines before starting work. (4) 

See OSHA’s Trench Safety PDF below for the top 5 trench safety tips for workers. Click here for more details on each one. 

OSHA trench safety PDF
Image courtesy OSHA

Proper trenching safety also includes daily inspections of the trenching siter for potential collapses or cave-ins. Complete these inspections at the start of each workday and as needed throughout the project. If unsafe conditions are discovered in the investigation, make sure that all workers are removed from the site until the issues have been addressed. (5)

So, what happens with the trenches once they are dug?

Trench Drain Reliability and Maintenance

Along with residential and municipal applications, trenching is done for the manufacturing industry as well. The purpose of larger-scale trench work is to install drainage and sewer lines as well as underground electrical lines. Trench drains allow water removal and drainage of wastewater in work areas. (5) (6)

Train drenches are very durable but do require maintenance. Proper trench drain maintenance is key to the longevity of the trench drain system. For some industries, such as the food manufacturing industry, it is possible that trench drains need weekly or even daily maintenance. All trench drains need care at least once per year, and maintenance workers must pay attention to symptoms that indicate a need for maintenance work. (6)

use proper trench safety when trenching and practice drain trench reliability
Image courtesy BigRentz
check grates as part of trench safety and trench drain maintenance
Image courtesy Dura Trench

5 Tips for Trench Drain Maintenance

Routine cleaning – Clean trench drains regularly to avoid clogging. Clogging leads to standing water and possible damage to the drain system. To perform a routine trench drain cleaning, remove the drain cover and sweep or rinse out any debris. Disinfect the drains as well to prevent bacteria growth, odor, and other issues that can create dangerous work environments. 

Clean correctly – Use the correct cleaning materials as not to damage the material of the trench drains. Use the manufacturer’s recommendations on proper cleaning processes as well as checking with your with your local health department for regulations.

Clear the area near the trench drain system – Do not allow items to accumulate near the trench drains. The flow of water can become blocked, and objects could fall into the drain and clog it or break it and cause it to fail.

Maintain grates and covers – Ensure that grates covering the drains are not broken, wearing out, or lifting off the drain. Uncovered trench drains are a trip hazard and make it easy for unwanted objects to fall into the drain. Make sure that the fasteners and screws holding the cover in place are in good shape. Keep extra covers in the storeroom in case a replacement is needed.

Maintain catch basins – An indication that the grate on a catch basin has failed is large amounts of debris or large items in the drainage system. Catch basins are made from different materials, so check the health of the catch basin frequently to ensure the material’s integrity. It is important to check the catch basin because it is easy for it to become damaged without workers realizing it. (6)

Conclusion

The Trench Safety Stand Down (TSSD) Week and Trench Safety Month initiatives by NUCA are excellent for promoting the safety of workers performing trenching and excavation. With the recent surge in utility projects, the emphasis on safety training has never been more critical. Events like TSSD Week encourage invaluable opportunities for employers to engage directly with employees about the hazards associated with trenching and the protective measures available. 

By focusing on education and practical safety measures, these initiatives aim to reduce the incidence of fatalities and serious injuries across industries. As we continue to prioritize these safety practices, we can foster a safer working environment for all workers tasked with trenching and excavation.


Sources

1) “National Utility Contractors Association Declares June 2024 as Trench Safety Month.” Robert Yaniz Jr. Content Editor of Occupational Health & Safety. June 14, 2024. Published online by Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S).

2) 2024 Trench Safety Stand Down. Published online by the National Utility Contractors Association. 2024.

3) “Construction: Trenching and Excavation.” OSHA eTool. Published online by the US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

4) “Trenching Safety: 5 Things You Should Know to Stay Safe.” PDF Published by OSHA

5) “What is Trenching?” June 2, 2022. Published in online BigRentz blog.

6) “How to Maintain Your Trench Drain System.” June 26, 2023. Published online by Dura Trench


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