Part of expanding our technological and travel-based infrastructure revolves around tunnels and underground drilling. As an employer, it is your responsibility to protect your workers if they are working underground. This includes tunnels, shafts, chambers, and passageways. Tunnels present unique hazards that need to be addressed in order to keep your employees safe. These hazards include air quality, improper ventilation and lighting, ground support, and lack of protective equipment. Employers should work to keep their employees safe during tunnel projects, and these are just some of the hazards to focus on.
Air Quality, Ventilation and Lighting
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), fresh air must be provided to all underground work areas. Ventilation must be adequate enough to prevent the accumulation of dust, fumes, mist, vapors or gases. If you cannot provide adequate natural ventilation, you must provide mechanical ventilation so that each employee working in the tunnel has at least 200 cubic feet of fresh air per minute. Air monitoring must be performed regularly and, if any air quality issues are found, work should cease until the air quality returns to safe levels or hazard equipment must be provided. OSHA also requires that a minimum illumination of five foot-candles be maintained. This ensures proper lighting, air quality, and ventilation is provided to workers.
Tunnel safety is dependent on on-ground support. The ground surrounding the tunnel should also be supported using shoring, fencing, headwalls or other protection in order to prevent collapse. Any dislodged or damaged ground supports should be immediately repaired or replaced with new supports installed before damaged supports are removed. Shafts that are more than five feet in depth must be supported by steel casing, concrete, pipe, or other strong material. It is critical that the ground is supported for rigging services as well.
Provide Adequate Personal Protective Equipment
One of the best methods for keeping your employees safe during tunnel work is to provide them with the personal protective equipment necessary. This may include flash-rated jackets and coveralls along with hard hats, safety glasses and ear protection. If there are fall hazards, fall-arrest equipment, such as harnesses should be used. In areas where the temperature may be extremely hot or cold, hand protection in the form of safety gloves should also be provided.
Develop Proper Emergency Procedures
All employees must be trained on what to do should an emergency arise. Emergencies in tunnels may include fire, flooding, explosions, collapse or power failure. There may also be an injured person who needs immediate medical attention while inside the tunnel. Employers should provide a system to identify anyone who is inside the tunnel as well as proper emergency response equipment. There should be a detailed emergency procedure manual on-site at all times.
Protecting your employees while they are working in a tunnel is critical to the health and safety not only of the people who work for you but your company as well. These four simple steps can help you prevent accidents and keep your employees healthy on the job.