This Safety and Health Information Bulletin is not a standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. The Bulletin is advisory in nature, informational in content, and is intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace. Pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must comply with hazard-specific safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1), the General Duty Clause of the Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
Powered augers are used predominantly in the agriculture, landscaping, construction and utility industries. They are commonly used to drill holes for pilings, utility poles, light poles and fence posts. The auger may be mounted on a variety of equipment or vehicles that may be ridden on or walked behind.
The drilling operation that prompted this Safety and Health Information Bulletin (SHIB) involved the use of a truck-mounted auger to install the final post of a security fence on a landscaped area covered by landscape fabric and a layer of mulch. The operator standing on the mulch was pulled into the rotating auger by the hidden fabric. His legs were amputated as they were pulled into the auger and he died as a result of the severe injuries.
This SHIB addresses some potential hazards employees may be exposed to when an auger strikes materials beneath or above the surface. In addition to contact with hidden landscape fabric, contact with underground utility installations such as gas, fuel, or electric lines (29 CFR 1926.651(b)(1)) or overhead power lines such as electrical distribution and transmission lines (29 CFR 1926.550(a)(15)) also could result in a fatal accident.
The purpose of this SHIB is to:
OSHA's Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Area Office investigated a fatality at the site of a newly-constructed administration building. A subcontractor had been hired to install a security fence. On the day of the incident, one post hole was left to be dug. All of the previous post holes had been dug on disturbed construction soil, but the last hole was in a landscaped area covered with mulch. The investigation revealed that the operator did not inspect the area where this last hole was to be dug before drilling and, therefore, was not aware of the landscape fabric beneath the mulch. Consequently, the landscape fabric was not cut to accommodate the 16-inch auger before drilling. Additionally, although the 1961 truck-mounted auger was originally equipped with a platform, it had been removed years before this incident, forcing the operator to stand on the mulch while operating the auger. The accompanying operator's instruction manual did not mention the existence of the platform as a standard piece of equipment for the auger, nor did it refer to it as a safety feature. Newer truck-mounted augers are equipped with a seated operator's control work station mounted on the vehicle. This is a standard configuration for products of this type. Additionally, the accompanying manufacturer's operating manual reflects safe practices for operating the auger from the operator's control station. Although the operator's station removes the operator from the ground, its use does not eliminate the hazard to nearby helpers working on the ground.
In this accident, as the rotating auger penetrated the mulch, it entangled the landscape fabric under the mulch and drew it into itself. The operator lost his footing and was drawn into the point of operation where the auger entered the soil. The operator sustained severe injuries including the amputation of both legs and he later died as a result of these injuries.
Synthetic fabrics are used in outdoor settings for different purposes, such as landscape fabric for weed control, erosion control, or civil engineering applications. The strength of these fabrics varies depending on their uses and the duration of exposure to ultraviolet light. Polypropylene ground cover is most commonly used for landscaping. It can weigh as much as 27 ounces per square yard with a grab tensile strength as high as 105 pounds per square inch.1
If an auger contacts fabric as it is drilling, the material may be rapidly drawn into the point of operation, possibly causing any person standing on the fabric to be drawn in at the same time. As in this incident, entanglements can happen so quickly that there is no time for the operator to react.
The accident that prompted this bulletin was the first known recorded fatality that has occurred as a result of an auger penetrating landscape fabric hidden beneath ground cover. However, there have been a number of other fatal accidents involving augers. According to OSHA's Integrated Management Information System (IMIS), since 1987 at least thirteen fatalities have resulted from entanglement or crushing hazards involving augers. The IMIS data also indicate that a number of fatal accidents have occurred from contact with underground and overhead electrical equipment and utility lines.
Located overhead power lines:
Determine underground installations:
Contact utility companies or owners:
Personal protective equipment:
Landscaping fabric of sufficient strength can trap employees' limbs when entangled in a powered auger. Hazards resulting from contact with underground or overhead utilities and from modifying equipment or disabling safety controls can also lead to severe injuries or fatalities. Implementing the actions described in this SHIB will reduce the potential for additional fatalities or serious injuries relating to operating powered augers.
1 Grab tensile strengths are from specification sheets for Dupont SF 65 Style geotextile and Dupont Seed Bed Covers. ASTM D4632-91-1966 Standard Test Method for Grab Breaking Load and Elongation of Geotextiles. (http://www.greenvista.dupont.com/pdf/DuPont_Seed_Bed_Cover.pdf, http://www.typargeo.com/pdf/kintex_dupont_sf_styles.pdf)
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