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Plumbing Stories from the Trenches: When Things Go Terribly Wrong

Trench Excavation
Apprentice and master plumbers alike fear trench collapse, and rightfully so. While not all plumbers have to work with trenches, the ones that do are well aware that the Occupational Safety / Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes trenching as one of the most hazardous operations in construction. When a trench caves in, it can be as deadly as a coal mine collapse. Workers must constantly monitor the stability of soil when unearthing dirt. Rain can trigger the soil to slide. OSHA has tight regulations for determining when the sides of trenches in unstable material more than five feet deep must be shored, sheeted, braced, or sloped; local regulations may be even stricter in this regard. For bigger trenches or in quake-prone regions, special protective trench boxes are needed, or lifeline harnesses may be in order. OSHA guidelines are updated frequently and need to be minded, not just to prevent OSHA fines, but also to save lives. Because of the potential for deadly consequences in excavation, a worker who is certified by OSHA in trench safety may be compulsory for certain jobs. OSHA provides free consultation programs through state agencies and universities to help plumbers learn how to meet trenching standards.
Why You Need to Be Wary
What happens when OSHA rules are not followed? Just ask C / C Plumbing of Meeker, Colorado. They were fined $153,450 after a fatality occurred in a trench collapse. An OSHA administrator said, "This company knew of the dangers on this job site from two cave-ins in the same trench just three days before the fatal accident. Yet no attempts were made to protect the employees from the trenching hazards. A young apprentice plumber died because of that indifference. This company must be held accountable.- With adequate shoring, the disaster could have been prevented.
The owner of an Illinois plumbing company, Walter Marble, obstructed an OSHA investigation after a trench collapse killed an employee. The employee was buried to death under eight feet of soil. The owner created phony documents to cover up the incident in an attempt to avoid legal responsibility. Ultimately the owner received five months in jail, five months home confinement, two years of probation, and fines and costs.
Ultimately, a plumbing company is responsible for ensuring that all of its employees are educated on how to recognize and control unsafe trenching conditions.

By Michelle Simmons
Get Plumbing Jobs, Contributing Editor

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