Scott Overson can’t remember how many times he’s seen a trench cave in while conducting inspections for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
But the first time it happened, Oct. 7, 2003, is a date Overson has never forgotten. During a routine inspection in Fargo for a lift station that was being installed, an excavation caved in while he was interviewing employees.
“It really made me realize how sudden and very quick that a trench can cave in,” said Overson, assistant area director of the Bismarck OSHA office. “It really kind of hit me hard.”
Another date that’s stuck with Overson is Oct. 18, 2011, the day he responded as a firefighter to a trench cave-in in Menoken that killed a worker.
“That day I had to help recover the body of an employee that was buried because the employer didn’t plan for safety,” he said.
On Thursday, Overson joined industry leaders at the North Dakota Safety Council’s safety training campus in Bismarck to sign a safety alliance to increase the awareness of trenching hazards and collaborate on training programs.
“The goal is to eliminate trenching hazards and prevent injuries and fatalities,” Overson said.
As recently as April 27, OSHA learned of a trench that caved in while two workers were inside repairing a sewer line in Mandan, Overson said.
Two men were covered with dirt when firefighters arrived, but they did not require medical treatment, according to the Mandan Fire Department. OSHA is investigating the incident.
In addition, OSHA recently issued citations to excavation contractor Kamphuis Pipeline Co. for exposing employees to trench cave-ins and other serious hazards while installing water metering pits and lines.
OSHA inspected the water project site in Logan and Kidder counties in south central North Dakota in September and October of 2017 after receiving a complaint. The company, based in Michigan, faces proposed fines of $454,750.
Kamphuis has contested the violations. The company did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.
The safety alliance OSHA has formed with industry aims to provide employers and workers with information and training resources to reduce exposure to excavation-related hazards.
For example, the North Dakota Safety Council, one of the alliance members, is adding a hands-on component to its excavation safety course and will partner with OSHA to do mock inspections, said safety consultant Dustin Austin.
“This alliance will provide a big benefit to employees out there in the field,” Austin said.
Other alliance members are Workforce Safety and Insurance, Associated Builders and Contractors of North Dakota, Associated General Contractors of North Dakota, Bakken Basin Safety Consortium, Energy Coalition for Contractor Safety, North Dakota One Call and the MONDAKS Safety Network.
The members signed a two-year agreement to collaborate on training and awareness programs.
“We want to get people home to their families safely every day,” said Chuck Clairmont, executive director of the North Dakota Safety Council.