Despite all of the trench education and safety information available within the construction industry, including a certified, ‘competent person’ at all trench sites, fatal trench injuries continue to make state-wide and national headlines and are chronicled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). One area to explore, that could have significant impact, is mandatory continuing education (CE) hours for contractor/builder license renewals. Trench education, knowledge and information is not privy to ‘members only’ of some secret fraternal society harkening back to the Middle Ages, like the Freemasons. If anything, great measures have been taken to ensure trench safety guidelines are easily accessible. With the advent of mandatory CE in some states, there needs to be conclusive studies, states with mandated CE that includes trench safety training versus non-mandated states, with the objective to quantify CE impact on trench fatal injuries.
Today, anyone can look up current OSHA guidelines regarding trenching and excavation. Further, most people in the construction industry are also very aware of the need for Professional Engineer’s (PE’s) in regard to specialized trenching, thus ensuring the safety of the workers in and around the trenches. Typically, trench safety education begins above ground, before any invasive soil procedure has begun, by the contractor/builder. A state licensed contractor or builder, has fulfilled and passed state exams and all mandated qualifying criteria, at some point in their career. This licensed person then gathers the crucial ancillary professionals to get the job, big or small, done and done safely. In most states, the exam for licensing happens once, without further mandated continuing education, regardless of changes or technical advancements within the industry.
Per the U.S. Department of Labor website, OSHA was, ‘created at the federal level and provided that states could run their own safety and health programs, as long as those programs were at least as effective as the federal program.’ The questions arise, then, as to why some states have formulated regulations beyond the federal level by mandating CE hours and more importantly, has it made any difference in trench safety and fatalities? The select number of states which have imposed mandatory CE, have done so strictly for contractor/builder license renewal. This mandated CE is to be completed within a repeating timeline, i.e., each year or every even numbered year. There are, however, very few states that have imposed mandatory CE hours. The remaining states without mandated CE do offer construction education, which can supplement their safety education and training, provided by many entities, for instance, National Trench Safety and OSHA’S Outreach Training program, as well as many on-line-OSHA-approved continuing education services, such as The Certified Training Institute. But, what is the impact on trench safety, with versus without, mandatory CE and has it in any way influenced the trench fatal injuries data? Surprisingly, no data is available at this time.
Data regarding mandatory CE and its impact upon trench safety isn’t the only difficult information to locate, simply trying to determine a current list of states with mandated CE is challenging. After strenuous on-line research and phone calls, it is surprisingly difficult to ascertain easily and quickly, which states mandate continuing education for contractors and even more difficult to discover if any of the required recertification course material includes trench safety guidelines specifically, OSHA or otherwise. Even more challenging, was trying to unearth any evidenced based data as to the impact mandatory CE hours has had on safety, specifically trench safety, despite the annual trench fatality data posted by the BLS.
Full disclosure and evidenced based data informatics would greatly aid the legislative decisions of other states considering the movement toward mandatory CE hours. Having safety efficacy data regarding mandatory CE could at the very least, perhaps open the door toward the pros and cons of such legislation. Given that federal and state mandated CE hours has had enormous positive impacts upon other professions, such as healthcare, for example, it is extraordinary that there is no current push or trend to move mandatory CE toward a universal core competency for contractors, which could include supplementing and reinforcing trench safety and OSHA guidelines. It is definitely a topic that should be explored and analyzed more thoroughly and over time, may become a crucial element in trench safety, with the end result being the saving of lives.