Some utilities – including electric, cable and communications providers – have had both underground and overhead applications for many years. However, more and more of these utilities now are either primarily installing their services underground or relocating overhead services underground, for a variety of reasons. These include reliability and protection from weather conditions, as well as minimizing exposure to equipment, vehicular traffic and farming operations. In addition to these safety concerns, utilities are installing services underground due to customer requests to improve the general appearance of the communities served by the utilities.
There are many beneficial reasons to install services underground, but there also are some downsides. Among them is the risk of personnel exposure to hazards when improper excavation practices are used. It is critical to adhere to OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P excavation practices as well as 811 and Dig Safe procedures. Another risk associated with underground facilities is that they often incorporate vaults or manholes that may be classified either as confined spaces or permit-required confined spaces. In either case, there are a number of safety concerns for which OSHA has implemented specific regulations that must be enforced to keep employees safe while working in these areas.
Safety should always be No. 1 on any job site. OSHA 1910.269(a)(2) states that all employees shall be trained in and familiar with the safety-related work practices, safety procedures and other safety requirements that pertain to their respective job duties. The agency goes on to say that employees who work in and around manholes must be trained on manhole rescue each year in order to demonstrate task proficiency. Proper documentation should be completed for the manhole training, as with any other training. The standard also states that the employee in charge shall conduct a job briefing or tailgate with all employees involved before the start of each job. At a minimum, the briefing should address the five areas required by the OSHA standard: hazards associated with the job, special precautions, energy-source controls, work procedures involved and personal protective equipment requirements.