Heed the Warnings

You may get tired of constant reminders to stay safe on the job site, but ignoring them could cost you

When I was putting together articles for the January issue, I wasn’t sure if I should include the Safety First column on trench safety.

I doubted whether anyone really needed yet another reminder about using shoring when working in a pit or trench. But then something awful crossed my desk.

Just as I was wrapping up this issue of Cleaner, I received an email that made me so glad I had included that story. A reader emailed about a news story that provided a grim example of what can go horribly wrong when proper steps aren’t taken to ensure workers’ safety in a trench.

The Boston Herald article reports the conviction of both a drain cleaning company and its owner on counts of manslaughter. The charges stemmed from the drowning of two workers in a trench collapse in 2016.

According to the article, “Kelvin ‘Chuck’ Mattocks, a 53-year-old father of six, and 47-year-old Robert Higgins were killed on Oct. 21, 2016, when underground materials supporting a hydrant in an allegedly unshored hole they were digging below Dartmouth Street gave way and the hydrant burst, flooding the trench.”

Prosecutors in the case claimed the owner was pushing the employees to work faster because the project was behind schedule. The collapse apparently buried the men up to their waists in dirt, rocks and concrete as the water rushed in around them.

That is a horrible way to die. And an easily preventable one.

Any thought of boring readers with yet another reminder to use safe practices at work evaporated when I read that article.

These accidents still happen far too often, and rather than worrying about boring you, I now realize I could remind you about the importance of trench safety every day and it still might not be enough.

A record of safety is completely wiped out when something like this happens. Risking your own or someone else’s life is never worth saving some time on the job. Cutting corners could get the job done faster. And it could just as easily get someone killed. Think about that the next time you (or the boss) wants to take a shortcut, and speak up. Every employee should be empowered to halt work if he or she sees something on the job site that could put people in danger.

So these reminders will keep coming from time to time. Even if they do bore you, even if your safety culture is strong, even if you have a weekly meeting with a dedicated safety manager — please read those articles.

New employees in particular need to know the dangers and learn how to determine when shoring is necessary and how best to deploy it. But it’s often veteran employees (or longtime owners) who need the reminders just as much. You may have successfully completed hundreds of jobs with no soil collapses. But the odds of it happening remain the same, and no amount of experience will save you in a collapse like the one that killed Mattocks and Higgins.

So I urge you to pass around the January issue if you haven’t already. You or someone on your team might need the reminder.

I hope you stay safe.


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