Training is essential for anyone heading out on a busy jobsite. Just like workers are taught how to operate equipment, it’s just as important for them to learn how to work in and around trenches.
“It’s important for all contractors to make sure their workers are properly trained for the work they’re assigned to do,” says George Kennedy, vice president of safety for NUCA. “Whether you’re a utility contractor or not, having a competent person (CP) on the job is an OSHA requirement and the right thing to do the ensure the safety of your crew.”
Speaking of safety, utility construction jobsites can present a host of obstacles for crews to navigate. This only furthers the importance of having a well-trained CP and crew.
“Utility contractors face many challenges on jobsites — adjacent structures, existing utilities, poor soil conditions and water accumulation are just a few. This is why OSHA requires that a competent person be on site during trench and excavation work,” says Joe Wise, customer training manager for United Rentals Trench Safety. “They must be trained in the excavation standard, 29CFR 1926 Subpart P, and designated as the competent person by their employer. This training is designed to impart essential knowledge about general requirements, hazards associated with trench and excavation work, soils analysis and protective system solutions.”
There’s no doubt trench safety training is vital and, well, it’s required for a company to have a CP on site when taking on work. To find the right program for your crew, it’s important to shop around for a quality program with a qualified instructor.
“When evaluating a trench safety program, internally or externally, contractors should look to the content of the program, engagement and instructor’s qualifications,” says Mario Vasquez, director of training at National Trench Safety (NTS). “The content should cover the OSHA standard, including hazards, soils analysis and protective systems option. It typically takes a full day to be able to satisfactorily cover these topics. The contractor should also ensure that the class content mirrors the exposure that employees will have in the field to see if information needs to be supplemented or added to ensure employees have as much information as possible to work safely and efficiently.”
So, what kind of trench safety training programs are out there? We’ll start with NUCA, who has been providing its programs for more than 25 years.
“NUCA offers formal training programs such as Excavation Safety and Competent Person Training, Confined Space Entry Training and refresher courses,” says Kennedy. “We also offer training materials available through the NUCA Store. NUCA provides free Toolbox Talks for members to download, and we recommend those be held weekly.”
According to NUCA, its Competent Person Program offers instructor training for qualified individuals who hold training programs for utility contractors, excavators and their employees who want training in Confined Space Entry. The association’s Confined Space Entry course provides construction managers, CPs and workers with basic information regarding entry into confined spaces. The class creates an awareness of the hazards associated with confined spaces and provides all the information necessary for a manager to establish a confined space entry program. Both programs are available with instructors who can train in English and Spanish.
What if you’re a seasoned worker and just want a refresher? No worries, you’re covered.
“There is no specific requirement for taking a refresher course, however, both NUCA and OSHA suggest that people take refreshers every three to five years or as needed,” says Kennedy. “NUCA provides a refresher course, and any one of our instructors can teach it.”
NTS, a leading provider of trench and traffic products, as well as a NUCA National Silver Partner, provides a full complement of trench safety, traffic safety and related training programs. The company also offers monthly open enrollment training programs for Competent Person for Excavation Safety and Competent Person for Confined Space for Construction, as well as routinely provides closed training for specific contractors.
“Open enrollment training courses work well for contractors who don’t want to shut down operations for a day to train or who would like an option to send new hires through a training program as quickly as possible,” says Vasquez. “NTS also provides a range of train the trainer programs that can help contractors develop internalized training resources. These programs cover the technical material and presentation style and provide attendees with the workbooks and tools necessary to begin building an internal program.”
United Rentals, also a NUCA National Silver Partner, offers both instructor-led and online training in trench safety. The company’s Competent Person Training for Excavation Safety course is presented by subject matter experts who use an engaging media presentation to educate workers on the proper use of gas monitors, shores, shields and other protective systems. According to United Rentals, trainees receive a competent person manual, field guides and resources that can assist them on trench and excavation projects.
“Beyond excavation safety, United Rentals offers online training in confined space safety and OSHA 10, as well as over 600 other safety courses through United Academy, our digital training portal and certification management center,” says Wise. “A large part of the trench safety curriculum in United Academy is available as instructor-led classes with multi-lingual options at our 78 trench safety locations in North America, as well as at customer facilities.”
With training programs available and experts to help, there’s no reason for companies not to have properly trained CPs and crews on a jobsite. NUCA, along with its associate members and national partners, are dedicated to keeping workers safe.
“We as an association have articles in our publication, Utility Contractor, newsletters and plenty of informational materials online,” says Kennedy. “The training is out there. We just need to keep encouraging contractors to have a properly trained competent person on the job who is tasked with keeping the worksite safe.”
Pam Kleineke is managing editor of Utility Contractor.