Construction companies focus on trench safety for workers, pedestrians

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – A sharp spike in deadly trench accidents nationwide is increasing a focus on safety for both construction workers and those who don’t work on construction sites.

According to OSHA, in the first half of the year more workers died in trench accidents across the country than in all of 2021. That sparked the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the National Utility Contractor Association to hold its first ever live trench training exercise.

Organizers said the event could not have come at a better time to reinforce how important this training is because a contractor in Murfreesboro fell 16 feet into a trench at a construction site on Tuesday.

“If you don’t continually raise that awareness and continually train, people get complacent in their workplaces,” NUCA executive director Natalie Hansen said. “They just forget things because they get into such a routine. Hopefully this will raise that awareness and put it back in the front of their mind instead of the back of their mind.”

Hansen said large open trenches can create a danger for anyone just walking near them with the risk of falling and getting seriously hurt. However, those giant holes contractors like Dustin Young dig are needed every day for utility work.

Young was one of the more than 300 contractors from across the region to learn about the latest safety guidelines at the training. He said there are simple steps everyone can take to protect themselves, including taking your time, slowing down, and paying attention to your surroundings.

Nashville Fire Department District Chief Stan Bailey said many tools, like ropes and winches, are needed to rescue someone from a trench. The department has only seen a couple of these calls per year, but the danger exists every day.

“There is so much construction going on in Nashville right now that people just don’t have a clue what is going on,” Bailey said. “New buildings digging out, running power lines, water lines, just every day it is something construction wise is going on.

“We’ve been really lucky that we haven’t had a major trench collapse. The TOSHA and the OSHA now are more on the scene checking on permits and things like that.”

Officials said it’s critical to use walls to prevent a trench from collapsing and put up safety barriers to prevent someone from accidentally slipping and falling into a trench. Ladders should also be set up at trenches to help people safely get in and out.

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