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Risk Insight: Trench & Excavation Safety Strategy

Construction & Real Estate, Property & Casualty

Throughout my 25 years as a safety professional, I have spent countless hours aimed at trench safety strategy. Unfortunately, in that time, the construction industry has seen no decline in trench-related fatality statistics. On the contrary, the numbers have stayed stagnant, and now, as seen in this OSHA article, the numbers are increasing.

What’s the reason for the lack of improvement? How can leaders within the construction industry reverse these crippling statistics? Why do we seemingly accept the risk exposure?

There likely isn’t one simple answer to these questions. However, we can look at, in my opinion, the three most important strategic focuses in most safety education initiatives. What? How? Why?

Trench Safety Strategy: The What

The “what” emphasizes the rules and regulations. What must we do to be safe? These answers may come from OSHA, MSHA, company internal safety programs, or any other regulatory faction. They are the minimum guidelines that need compliance to manage risk and control losses. The what certainly exists.

Trench Safety Strategy: The How

The “how” breaks down the “what” into procedural expectations. How do we successfully comply? It is accomplished by assessing the risk, understanding the rules, and educating the affected. In addition, effectively implementing the how is of high importance. Most companies have these procedures. Most companies have a training program. If you are missing the how, it is time to change.

Trench Safety Strategy: The Why

Finally, there is the “why”. This may be the most important of the three. And, where we may be failing.

A why can be established in many ways. The sharing of relevant statistics can bolster the why. Or, one can simply think of their family members to fuel the why. Some may imagine the devastation they would incur personally if they themselves, or a coworker were to be seriously injured or killed. Regardless of the why being organizational or for the individual personally, nothing influences your behavior more than your why.

The why can have a substantial impact on what you believe. Trenching fatalities ARE preventable. To be successful in reversing the trend, we must believe this to be true.

Key Strategies for Focus on Trench Safety

So, what are some strategies to shift attention back to these basic focus areas?

First, spend time revisiting your safety program, in particular, the section regarding trench & excavation safety. Be sure the written guidelines found within meet or exceed the requirements of all regulating bodies you fall under.

Next, point your attention to safe work expectations and an effective education program. The work expectations, or procedures, must align with the requirements of your program. If training has been done, perhaps re-training is warranted. Gauge attendee retention by frequently observing actions and behaviors associated with trench and excavation exposures.

Lastly, and likely the most challenging, introduce the idea of “why” to your employees. Guide them to establish this for themselves. Give them permission to hold their “why” paramount to any other influencers.

We all must work together to reverse this fatality trend! As always, engage your M3 Risk Manager for additional insight.

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