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Construction Sites; Why Safety Is Pivotal

Why Safety Must Always Be Considered At Construction Sites

According to the most recent OSHA statistics, workplace injuries cost the Australian economy over $61 billion annually. This is their direct impact and does not take into account the ancillary effect that they have on people, companies and communities. Workplace injuries and diseases have a trickle-down effect that not only changes the lives of the workers involved but can lead to company closures and loss of jobs in their area of operations. At a minimum, they cause an increase in expenses such as workers compensation insurance and a decrease in worker productivity.

Sadly, the lions share of these incidents happen within the construction industry with 63,230 worker injuries and 899 deaths being reported in 2018. That is almost 20 percent of all reported worker fatalities in the country and a similar percentage of accidents.

While some might see these numbers as an indictment of construction companies and building practices, in general, the honest truth is that construction work is inherently dangerous. On any given site every type of possible hazard might be present at some time and most such as slip and fall hazards, large equipment in motion and airborne particulate hazards are a constant companion. Add to this the fact a construction site is a highly animated environment where things are constantly changing and in motion and it is easy to understand how accidents do frequently occur despite everyone’s best intentions.

This doesn’t mean that is not room for improvements and a Zero Harm working environment should always be the goal of every contracting company. Not just for the benefit of their employees but for the economic advantages that it brings as well.
The elimination of workplace injuries increases the productivity of workers, prevents client annoying scheduling delays, and in extreme cases greatly lessens the chances of a company killing lawsuits or OSHA actions.

To help aid in the quest for zero lost time accidents new technologies are being developed every day and new uses are being found for tools that have been with us for years. A case in point is the recent developments in vacuum excavation.

Origins of vacuum excavation

Most people associate the basic principles behind vacuum excavation with the placer mining techniques used in the 1800s but it was actually the Romans who first used water under pressure to move earth. The mining industry rediscovered the power of this method during the California gold rush in the United States.

In the late 1970 trucks were developed to use suction to remove septage from tanks and to empty slurry from industrial waste pits. By the 80s jet, trucks had been developed to clear blockages from underground pipes. Then in 1993, the idea of using water pressure as a digging tool was paired with the idea of using suction to remove the debris and vacuum excavation was born.

How can vacuum excavation improve safety?

17 percent of all workplace injuries in the construction industry are the result of people being hit by moving equipment like excavators and loaders. When vacuum excavation methods are used the equipment is only in motion when being set up or leaving the worksite. Other than that, only hoses and personnel are in motion. No moving equipment precludes someone being struck.

Over one-third of all construction injuries involve muscle strain or some other type of body stress. Suction excavation doesn’t require any shovel work to be done by hand greatly reducing the chances of a labourer developing strains and sprains.
Both of the injury types just mentioned become more likely when work must be performed in a confined area where there is very little margin for error. Tight spaces are an issue that hydro excavation excels at. The trucks can be parked in an open area and hoses run to the actual dig site.

Inside an excavation site is one of the most dangerous places a construction worker can be required to work. Even with modern shoring methods many accidents minor and major still occur each year. Vacuum excavator operators are not normally required to enter a dig site. They work remotely from the surface. This eliminates the chances of them becoming the victim of a cave-in.

Vacuum digging removes the excavated material from the worksite helping to eliminate clutter, improve visibility and improving the overall safety of the project site.

There is no such thing as a minor injury on a construction site. All reportable incidents impact worker morale and a company’s safety record. At a minimum, a company should have a documented comprehensive safety plan to protect themselves from regulatory issues. The wise contractor makes use of all possible tools made available to them to protect themselves and their people.

From the simple things like toolbox meetings as each shift comes into making use of the latest and safest technology available to accomplish each task at hand there are no small steps that can be overlooked. One misstep is all it can take to change a company’s fortunes forever.

vacuum truck

Why Is Vacuum Excavation the Preferred Method of Excavation in Australia?

Excavation work has always been problematic. Whether it is something as simple as planting a tree in your yard or as complicated as a remediation project anytime you start to break soul with traditional methods there are risks and safety issues that must always be taken into account. The pick and shovel method often expose people to dangerous working conditions and is a labour-intensive method to move soil. It has often been employed as a method of last resort though when working space is limited.

Heavy equipment like track hoes, backhoes and excavators cannot avoid contributing to noise pollution, air pollution and environmental damage to some extent. Added to these risks is the ever-present danger of damaging utility pipes and cabling or causing irreparable harm to heritage flora. In the proper environment, they are capable of moving a large amount of earth quickly but generate a lot of airborne particulate matter and require space to operate and an area to deposit the material they move causing further unsightly damage to their surroundings. Of course, this was all before the development of vacuum excavation methods and the specialized equipment it employees.

As with any earth moving procedure, vacuum excavation is not necessarily the best option under all circumstances but when properly employed, in the correct manner, by trained professionals it can bring distinct advantages to some portion of virtually any excavation site.

What is vacuum excavation

Vacuum Excavation is also known as hydro excavation or non-destructive digging and is a very simple process to understand. Most people, at some point in their lives, have seen the same principle displayed from a common garden hose. You spray it on the ground and you end up with a muddy hole. Non-destructive digging applies this same principle on a much larger scale.

Unlike more traditional methods of digging, it doesn’t rely on the impact power or the cutting force that can be generated by hydraulic or pneumatic machinery but it does have the ability to move massive amounts of earth quickly. Nor does it require the muscle power of hand digging yet it can provide even better precision and safety around obstructions.

Vacuum excavation uses precision jets of high-pressure water to loosen and move clay, sand, rock and soil. Almost all underground utilities are impervious to water so there is no need to worry about damaging any piping or cables that may be buried in the area. Because hydro excavation uses dirt’s natural tendency to absorb moister and then flow rather than a cutting process there is also no need to worry about damaging the root systems of trees or even most larger shrubbery.

As the water jet breaks up and combines with the soil contents it flows and is then vacuumed out of the excavation and into a holding truck. This eliminates the need for there to be unsightly dirt piles that cause further environmental damage.

Advantages of hydro excavation

Vacuum excavation offers many advantages over traditional digging methods beyond those listed above. Here is a partial list to give you a few ideas.

  • It allows underground assets to be uncovered with minimal disturbance of the surrounding area and next to no chance of causing damage to the works being uncovered. This makes it an ideal process for utility work, especially in congested urban areas.
  • Because the pressure head and vacuum hoses can be operated remotely from the dig site there is no need to clear an area or perform demolition work in order to make room for heavy equipment. Making it ideal for locations with minimum available space or where the surrounding property or road face needs to be protected.
  • Because it is a wet procedure hydro excavation doesn’t generate the dust and other particulate air pollution that more traditional digging methods cause. For areas where people may allergy or other respiratory concerns this could be a big plus.
  • In all but the most extreme excavations, there is no need for personnel to actually enter the dig. This greatly reduces the chances of injuries, lowers liability concerns and increases worker safety.
  • Vacuum excavation is up to ten times faster than the traditional hand digging required in areas where underground utility works or root systems that need to be preserved are located. This added efficiency reduces the time to complete a project and will in most cases equate to a cost savings to the end customer.

Why Is Vacuum Excavation Now the Preferred Method of Excavation in Australia? The simple answer is because it is a gentler, more cost-effective, less invasive and safer way of excavating a site. It reduces pollution, minimizes site impact and helps preserve the surrounding environment. In short, it is superior to traditional digging methods in almost any way.

If you need any type of excavation work performed in the Brisbane, Gladstone or Mackay areas contact SafeDig Services for a consultation.

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