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«Leaders Guide Trenching and Shoring Safety - Competent Person The manual for Excavations Trenching and Shoring is produced in Adobe Acrobat. The ...»

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Introduction Cave-ins can be deadly. No….in fact they usually are deadly! There are not too many survivors of cave-ins. Trench wall failures occur suddenly, with little or no time for the worker to react. The weight of the soil crushes and twists the body, usually causing suffocation and or internal bleeding in a matter of minutes. Excavations need not be deep or particularly large to create a life threatening hazard, so every excavation must be taken seriously.

Twenty-four states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

As an example some of the California Standards and Documents are included in this manual. Some material in the Appendices is from the California web site.

This manual includes references and information regarding hazards associated with working in and around trenches where shoring is important. It also includes information about excavations and the role and responsibilities of a Competent Person as outlined in the Title 8 Trenching & Excavation Standards.

California code of regulations Title 8 Requirements for Protective Systems Subchapter 4 Construction Safety Orders Article 6. Excavations 1541.1 can be obtained from HTTP://WWW.DIR.CA.GOV/TITLE8/1541_1A.HTML The federal standards can be found in the OSHA safety regulations 29 CFR1926.650 – 651 and 652. A copy of the standard can be obtained from http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/trenchingexcavation/construction.html.

Another link that provides useful information can be obtained from:

http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA2226/2226.html http://www.setonresourcecenter.com/OSHA_pubs/osha2226.pdf

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The purpose of this manual is to acquaint you with the standards relating to trenching and shoring as adopted by State and Federal safety authorities. To be qualified as a one must have a working knowledge of the materials covered in this manual and a basic understanding of the information covered in the references. This must include up-todate continuing education.

Your organization will be required to provide additional training that is specific in the hazards, equipment and locations which may present trenching hazards for your projects.

Examples might include but not be limited to:

• Specific training in the types of soils, trenches and excavations found in your area

• Information regarding any special hazards that may be encountered, including safety equipment and organizational specific rescue requirements.

• Specific technical and hands-on training for the equipment that would be used in trenches and excavations such as shoring equipment, materials, instruments and specific techniques used to assess and determine soil type and conditions

• Familiarization with the elements of the companies written trench safety program as well as use of checklists and procedure Competent Person The term "Competent Person" is used in many OSHA standards and documents. As a general rule, the term is not specifically defined. In a broad sense, an OSHA competent person is an individual who, by way of training and/or experience, is knowledgeable of applicable standards, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to the specific operation, is designated by the employer, and has authority to take appropriate actions How to Put Competence in a ‗Competent Person‘ It’s problematic to designate an employee as a “competent person,” if there’s an understanding (express or implied) that stopping work, or blowing the whistle on a dangerous condition, will subject the “competent person” to browbeating or reprisals.


You have probably heard the term “competent person” used in connection with accident avoidance and OSHA compliance. Having employees who are fully qualified as “competent persons” should be a key part of your company’s safety and compliance program.

One reason for this is that failure to provide a “competent person” is one of the most frequently cited OSHA violations.

Another is that, in terms both of legal compliance and avoiding jobsite accidents, it must not be assumed that experience and common sense equal “competence.” Thus, it’s critical to know the definition and qualifications of the “competent person.” No less than 18 sub-parts of OSHA’s construction standards and six subparts of the general industry standards require a “competent person.” Overall, in construction standards, there are more than 120 references to a “competent person.” The needs of a particular employer, of course, in providing “competent persons” will vary according to the trade and the exact activities carried on by that employer.

The dangers of failing to give the “competent person” training to acquire the modest incremental knowledge needed to effectively discharge his duties are shown by the recent case of Secretary v. EMCON/OWT, Inc.

That case involved a crew of men working in an excavation at a Florida landfill.

Landfills are laid out in cells lined with high density polyethylene. As cells fill up and the garbage in the cell deteriorates, methane gas is produced. The methane must be collected by wells located around the landfill and vacuumed into gas headers to a central location, where it is burned off.

Perforated clean-out lines are installed beneath layers of gravel and sand in each cell prior to garbage being deposited.

Leachate (rainwater falling onto the accumulating garbage) percolates through the sand and gravel into the perforated collecting lines, which drain it to the landfill’s sump area.

The five-man work crew at the landfill had excavated a trench, exposing the leachate clean-out pipe that they needed to cut into. One worker, Seaborn, tried to cut the pipe using a gasoline-powered chainsaw. The pipe released an odorous gas, and the chainsaw stopped working. Seaborn left the trench and went to retrieve an electric saw to use instead.

Returning, Seaborn noted a foul odor, and exited the trench. The crew foreman, Diloreti, entered the trench to make the cut, but likewise hesitated because of the odor. Warne, a third crew member, expressing impatience with his co-workers, entered the trench, bent over the pipe to make the cut, but stood up and said, “Whew.” A fourth worker, Garno, jumped into the trench, bent over the pipe, stood up, said, “Something is not right,” and passed out. Seaborn went to assist Garno.

Diloreti tried to assist Warne, but passed out himself. All four crew members were removed to hospital, but Warne died shortly thereafter.

The employer was cited for three violations, one of which was a failure to inspect the area by a “competent person” following a “hazard-increasing occurrence.” Meier, the supervisor (and only crew member not present when the workers were overcome) had inspected the excavation on the morning of the occurrence. The ALJ rejected the employer’s depictions of Meier as its “competent person,” and thus required inspection as constituting compliance with the standard. In addition to the required daily inspection, the ALJ found, an additional inspection must be made “after every rainstorm or other hazardincreasing occurrence.” The secretary considered Diloreti, the foreman, as the true “competent person,” and asserted that cutting into the leachate pipe was a “hazard-increasing occurrence.”

The ALJ agreed with the secretary that three incidents, over a 20-minute span, gave notice of likely employee exposure:

the stoppage of the gas-powered chainsaw, indicating a shortage of oxygen; a strong, unpleasant odor arising from the pipe; and the immediate physical discomfort experienced by the crew members upon entering the trench to make the second cut.

Faced with these unusual incidents, the ALJ found that Diloreti (as the acting foreman) should have tested the atmosphere with a gas meter, available in the crew’s truck. He did not do so.

Diloreti had worked for the employer for 10.5 years, and had risen from laborer to technician to operator to foreman. He had never received “competent person” training, and only vaguely understood what the term meant. Although plainly conscientious and stricken by the death of his coworker, Diloreti testified that it had not occurred to him to test the excavation with a gas meter after the crew cut the pipe.

The ALJ held that Diloreti was unqualified to act as a “competent person”; that he had failed to identify a recognizable hazard; that an inspection required after a hazard- increasing occurrence was not made; and that Diloreti’s knowledge of the foul smell, and his crew members’ reactions, would be imputed to the employer and the employer had failed to be reasonably diligent in training its employees. Accordingly, a “serious” violation was found and a significant penalty imposed.

This occurrence would probably have been avoided and a life saved, had Diloreti had the modest incremental knowledge that would have led him to retrieve a gas meter and test the atmosphere in the trench.

The main lessons from the EMCON/OWT case are that experience must not be assumed to equal “competence,” and modest investments in “competent person” training afford employers serious “bang for the buck” and a sharp reduction in the likelihood of avoidable, and preventable, employee injury.

About the author: Mr. Welby is a senior partner of the law firm Welby, Brady & Greenblatt, LLP, of White Plains, NY.

He is a licensed professional engineer in both New York and New Jersey. He can be reached at (914) 428-2100.

The standard requires that each excavation or trench site must be monitored by a trained employee designated as a "Competent Person."

A competent person is not just any employee used to simply satisfy the standard. A competent person is defined as: One who is capable of identifying existing and potential hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are: unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous and has authorization to take prompt corrective action to eliminate the hazards.

By referring to this definition, a "Competent Person" (Though not required by standard) should be a designated employee working in a supervisory capacity. New hires or extra employees must not be used for this important task!

The employer designates who will be the Competent Person and is obligated to ensure that that person is competent to perform the task and is trained to recognize all hazards on the job site - this also applies to all the workers on the job site. Again, a competent person does not have to be a supervisor – however the employer must ensure that the supervisor does not try to supersede the authority of the Competent Person.

It is critical that management actively support the Competent Person!

A certificate or card does not constitute a competent person – compliance with the adopted definition does.

What Makes a “Competent Person?”

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The Competent Person Must:

Be in direct charge of safety on the trenching and excavation project.

Plan or co-plan all phases of the project (the key is to be involved!) Perform both visual and manual soils testing Determine which form of trench protection is appropriate in accordance with the standard, hazards and soil conditions.

Impact of Cave Ins The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has warned construction workers that they may be risking their lives when working in trenches or near potentially unstable ground. Based on NIOSH statistics, an average of 60 workers die in cave-ins each year.

According to NIOSH Director Dr. J. Donald Millar, these deaths are entirely preventable. He goes on to say: "It is appalling that workers continue to be buried alive in cave-ins. Almost without exception, these deaths can be prevented with existing safety precautions. These are not accidents, but incidents that can both be anticipated and avoided."

Of the 607 cave-in fatalities identified by NIOSH researchers over a ten year period from 1980 to 1989, construction workers accounted for 77% of these deaths. However, cave-ins are not the only threat to the safety of construction workers. These workers also face hazards associated with working at heights, working with heavy machinery, manually handling materials, confined space hazards and working near sources of electricity, such as underground or overhead power lines.

The new Cal/OSHA Trenching & Excavation Standard 1504 of the Construction Safety Orders detail the specific requirements for working in trenches and excavations. The new standard is based upon the adopted Federal Shoring Standard.

Each employee must be specifically trained in the hazards of working in trenches and be thoroughly familiar with the requirements of the standard.

Supervision is responsible for knowing and enforcing the requirements of the standard.

Note: Due to the importance of this information, be sure to follow your companies‘ procedures and carefully read and follow the applicable Safety Regulations and Standards.

If you do not understand any part of the standard, be sure to discuss it with your supervisor to acquire the knowledge.



On June 7, while driving through Madison, Wis., Compliance Safety and Health Officer, Chad Greenwood of OSHA‘s Madison area office observed work being performed at an excavation site. He saw a potentially unsafe trench and stopped to initiate an inspection.

When the trench conditions were closely examined, the trench was found to be unsupported and unstable. He warned the foreman that no one should enter the trench. The contractor had been preparing to place an inlet box for a storm sewer. During the opening conference with the employer, a portion of the trench wall collapsed. Luckily, no one was hurt because of the CSHO‘s quick actions.

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