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Trenching training seeks to save lives

The training takes place, led by Jim Heaphy with the Associated General Contractors of South Dakota
C.J. Keene
The training takes place, led by Jim Heaphy with the Associated General Contractors of South Dakota

Each year, multiple South Dakota construction workers lose their lives as a result of improper practices while digging trenches.

In turn, labor representatives are taking time to make sure their crews know how to stay safe in pits.

In Rapid Valley, a pit was dug Thursday for dozens of contractors to take a day to ensure none of their jobs would be the next fatal accident.

That’s not a hypothetical either. Nationwide, OSHA investigates dozens of fatal trench collapses every year. South Dakota has experienced several in recent years.

Mike Kane is a trainer for the state Associated General Contractors. He said trenching is one of the most dangerous tasks on a job site.

“Every year, you get multiple people killed in trench excavation," Kane said. "So, we’re trying to do this stand-down event where everyone just stops working and they come and get training from professionals. We’re just trying to identify what are the hazards from this type of work, and protective measures to keep everybody safe so everybody can go home at night.”

That makes maximizing safety crucial for these situations.

“Hazards associated with trenches is not shoring or using shielding," Kane said. "When people go down and work in that trench and the trench walls collapse in on them – a cubic yard of dirt weighs about 600 pounds. So, basically when that falls from six feet down it’s like being hit by a car. So, we show them the proper way to dig a trench, and if you can’t shore it out and get it wide enough, we show you different things you can do like putting trench boxes in that hole so your guys can go down there and work safely without that trench collapsing on top of them.”

Alongside the state contractors’ group, OSHA representatives were also present to offer the training.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture