I am generally not a person who gets on soapbox. But I can’t help but think that our industry is failing miserably at protecting our workers from dying in our trenches. If you read George Kennedy’s Safety Management column last month, you know what I am talking about. Too many workers are needlessly getting killed, buried alive, in unprotected trenches. And it has to stop.
The majority of NUCA contractors have safety as the number one priority. However, as leaders in this industry, it is our responsibility to share and promote safe working methods with all who call themselves “Utility” contractors. That is why NUCA, in partnership with NAXSA and with the full endorsement of OSHA, will hold a Trench Safety Stand Down Week, June 18-23, and I urge everyone reading this to participate.
NUCA’s VP of Safety George Kennedy recently shared some startling numbers with me. In 2016, 23 workers were killed while working in trenches (double that of ‘14 and ‘15 combined). The numbers were just as bad in 2017, and fatalities this year are already halfway to last year’s total — and we are just closing out the first quarter. By anybody’s standards, these deaths are unacceptable.
It is hard for me to imagine that any utility contractor would put their employees in such danger. But incredibly, there are still employers who choose to risk the lives of their employees to save a buck, or they believe the excavation does not require trench protection, or they hope the short-term operation will go undetected by OSHA.
In the last 25 years, NUCA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars ensuring members are educated and or trained on many safety issues. But protecting workers in the trench (and offering training to ensure that happens) has by far been NUCA’s biggest safety focus. I believe the vast majority of contractors, members or not, do their best to protect workers, but the numbers speak for themselves.
It is up to us to keep our workers safe and to show non-NUCA members the importance of having well-trained and educated crews on every jobsite, which brings me back to our TSSD.
Last year contractors, municipalities, engineering firms, and the military from all over the country participated in TSSD week and educated more than 11,000 workers. A great reach, but this is a very small percent of workers who need this safety message. Hopefully the press will cover this event, and our message will get to a contractor or crew who is lacking in this training and will reach out to us for help.
I would like to ask everyone reading this magazine to commit participating. If you are pressed for time, you can hold 20-minute trench safety Toolbox Talk with your crews. Last year, some companies held company-wide training, some showed trench safety videos, some did onsite demonstrations. It doesn’t matter what you do. Just get the information to your employees so it is always in the front of their minds.
You can download lots of materials for your TSSD from the NUCA website, including last month’s Safety Management article, “Buried Alive.” The first paragraph describes what it is like for a worker buried in a trench collapse. It is not for the faint of heart, but I am sure your employees will remember it.
As I step down from my soapbox, I want to thank everyone who attended NUCA’s recent convention in San Antonio and extend my congratulations to all the award winners, including Ryan Kinning, Ditchdigger of the Year, and Gary Lawson, Associate Member of the Year, two well deserving recipients.
The success of the convention is largely due to the volunteers who took time to participate in convention-planning conference calls. Thank you to the NUCA staff and all the ED’s for your input and assistance. Thank you to this year’s chairpersons: Alex Kocher, Penny Danielecki, Andy Williams and John Davis. These are all unsung heroes who put together another excellent convention. Thank you all for your hard work.
Having the opportunity to see what happens behind the curtain this year, I can assure you that every last one of these individuals was committed to ensuring the customer satisfaction of all attendees. The staff, in particular, remind me of the calm-and-collected duck above the water, but below, they are paddling hard. Thank you all for your hard work
Lastly, please take a little time to help our association become stronger: recruit and new member, join a committee or volunteer, help grow the NUCA PAC. We are all at the busiest time of the year, but just a five-minute phone call can help.
NUCA Chairman of the Board