Company: Cascade Shoring, LLC
Cofounder and general manager: Bret Taylor
Common hazards: Falls, cave-ins, caught between, utility strikes, material handling
I started in excavation safety in the mid ’90s at a company called Cantel, Inc. I had no idea there was a whole industry devoted to the shoring industry until a friend invited me to see what he did for a living. After speaking to Glen Ellis, the owner, I was hooked. Glen was very instrumental in shaping my philosophy on the business. I still consider him a mentor to this day and rely on him for advice from time to time. Eventually, Glen sold the company to a larger company, and through the past several years, the industry has gone through a lot of change and consolidation. There were fun times, and not so fun times, but I found that sticking it out, and being hard working and honest paid off. People began to ask me for my expertise to solve their excavation challenges.
In 2006, I co-founded Cascade Shoring, LLC, which now serves all of Oregon and Southwest Washington from our operations in Salem and Portland. Building Cascade Shoring from scratch has been difficult, and several challenges have come upon us. We have assembled the best group of people over the years who have a passion for what they do. I love this industry, and find it very fulfilling to be part of this team in our goal to make the excavation industry safer.
My philosophy is that being safe in excavations is usually easy to achieve when the equipment is planned into the price of the work. This allows for the luxury of choosing the right protection, rather than having to address it on the fly, which can be more costly in the long run.
Excavation safety has come a long way over my career. It used to be very common that customers would rent a shield, just to have it on the job in case OSHA showed up. This type of attitude is almost unheard of today, which shows how much importance that companies are putting on doing the work safely.
I recently helped design a solution on a job that required setting a manhole over an existing 24-inch sewer main. The challenge was that a fiber optic line was located almost directly above the sewer (where the manhole needed to be). After proposing some options, the city allowed the contractor to upsize the manhole and shorten it with flat top on it. Then we offset the rest of the manhole, so that it extended to the surface next to the fiber optic. We designed a support system that braced the ground around the existing fiber optic, with enough room to lower the oversize manhole sections into place.
A customer removed a worker protection device because they were having a hard time getting a pipe into place. An employee jumped into the ditch without replacing the device and was involved in a cave-in. He was fortunate that he was only partially buried and ended up being OK.
It is not uncommon that it can take 20 minutes to free someone who is buried up to their waist. If someone were to be involved in a cave-in, they should see a medical professional immediately because of complications that can come from the lack of circulation caused by the pressure on one’s extremities. One cubic yard of dirt weighs 2,700 pounds (on average, the weight of a small car). Imagine that pressure on your lungs and chest cavity. A person buried up to their neck can still suffocate from this pressure on the body.
The No. 1 problem I see is equipment that is damaged to the extent that it no longer can function the way it was intended. This makes it out of compliance with the OSHA regulations. Structural damage to a worker protection device is considered a failed safety device.
I also see equipment that is the wrong size for the job (not tall enough, not long enough). Very often, employers put workers in harms way by making do with what they have. In some of the outlying areas, I’ll see employers not using the proper equipment at all. Every hazardous excavation requires worker protection at any depth. In addition to this rule, excavations that are five feet or deeper require worker protection.
I think this is very commonly misunderstood. The role is of great importance, which is why OSHA requires that every excavation have a competent person. The “competent person” is defined as someone who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. Every excavation must have a competent person. In order to be a “competent person,” one must have had specific training in and be knowledgeable about soils analysis, the use of protective systems, and the requirement of the standard, and must be designated by the employer.
It is hard to have black-and-white rules that can be applied for all construction, let alone construction that occurs in areas that you cannot see before you begin the work. Having a competent person is the key to worker protection on excavation jobsites, so they can see potential hazards as they develop, and have the authority to make changes to keep workers out of harm’s way.
There are people in the industry who are good at identifying problems, but not coming up with solutions together with the employees involved in the work. I find that this makes a person lose respect and negatively affects the safety culture of a company.
I have found that pride is my worst enemy. I don’t have to have all the answers in order to be a professional. In my opinion, this makes a person less valuable. It is true that the more experiences that I have had, the more I do have answers, but it is so valuable to have a network of people you can bounce things off of. I have such a high regard for so many of my customers and colleagues in the industry. When you aren’t afraid to ask for advice, you develop a better relationship with customers, along with receiving input from guys who have “been there.”
It is easy to misunderstand that forging good relationships and contacts with people in your industry can seem like a waste of time and a side track from main duties. My network of construction contacts has served me well over the years, and ultimately makes Cascade Shoring more valuable to our customers.
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