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The hazards of underground utilities
For the construction and utility industries, using the Oregon Utility Notification Center’s 811 service – perhaps better known for its tagline “Call before you dig” – is critical.
After all, the potential ripple effects of failing to take that crucial step before breaking ground in an area that may contain buried water, electricity, or natural gas lines include lives injured or lost, buildings damaged or destroyed, and financial costs that only pile up.
So far this year, Oregon OSHA has issued seven citations to companies for failing to secure locations of underground lines before opening excavations. Those citations have totaled more than $13,000 in initial penalties. Four other investigations of such incidents remain active.
Workers’ compensation premiums show one measure of Oregon’s success
Those who keep an eye on national trends know that Oregon has for years been bucking those trends when it comes to workers’ compensation costs.
When it comes to excavations and the potential hazards of underground utilities, Oregon OSHA’s specific requirements are:
- The location of utilities must be determined before opening an excavation
- The exact location of the installations must be determined by safe and acceptable means
- While excavations are open, underground installations must be protected, supported, or removed as necessary to safeguard employees
Of course, there are other excavation rules that go beyond underground utilities. They include specific excavation requirements and requirements for protective systems. It’s all spelled out in Oregon OSHA’s Division 3, Subdivision P, Excavations rules.
Planning before you dig reduces the chance that something will go wrong when you start a job. Consider the following before you start excavating:
- Debris near the excavation site that could create a hazard
- How employees will get in and out of the excavation
- How to protect people from falling into the excavation
- How to respond to emergencies
- Location of overhead power lines and underground utility lines (Call 811 from anywhere in Oregon for help in locating underground utility lines)
- Possibility of atmospheric hazards in the excavation
- Possibility of water in the excavation
- Stability of soil at the excavation site
- Stability of structures adjacent to the excavation site
- Vehicles and other mobile equipment that will operate near the excavation
- Weather conditions
- Dig a hole in the ground and you’ve made an excavation. Excavations can be any size: wide, narrow, deep, or shallow. A trench is a narrow excavation, not more than 15 feet wide at the bottom.
- If you install forms or other structures in an excavation that reduce its width to less than 15 feet, measured at the bottom, the excavation is also considered a trench.
- If you work in an excavation that’s five feet deep (or deeper) you must be protected from a cave-in. If a competent person determines that there’s a potential for an excavation to cave in, you must be protected regardless of its depth.
- A cave-in can trap you within seconds and kill you within minutes.
- Two cubic yards of soil weigh about 6,000 pounds. If you’re buried, you’ll suffocate in less than three minutes. Even if you survive, the weight of the soil is likely to cause serious internal injuries.
Error is pervasive. The unexpected is pervasive … What is not pervasive are well-developed skills to detect and contain these errors at their early stages.”
Heads up: New walking-working surfaces rules for general industry take effect Nov. 1
Oregon OSHA’s entire set of general industry rules for walking-working surfaces will be changing next month.
Although the rules become effective Nov. 1, some have delayed effective dates – ranging from two months to 18 years – that are intended to give employers time to comply with the requirements. You might also want to note that Oregon OSHA’s delayed effective dates are different than those set by federal OSHA. But don’t worry. Read on to learn more about the new walking-working surfaces rules.
Save the dates for these two conferences!
Southern Oregon Occupational Safety & Health conference in Ashland
Western Pulp, Paper, & Forest Products Safety & Health Conference in Portland
Upcoming education workshops in Eugene, Salem, Roseburg, Bend, and Milwaukie.
Industry: Plastic injection molding
Worker: Assistant material handler (a temporary employee)
A worker's finger was amputated while he was troubleshooting a plastics dryer that he had not de-energized.
Employer: Oregon State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology
Associate Professor of Practice: Kaci Buhl
Roles and responsibilities: Coordinator, Statewide Pesticide Safety Education Program; Deputy Director, Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative (PERC); Co-Investigator, National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC).
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