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Excavation Risk Assessment

Identify excavation safety issues before they occur and improve how people work together throughout the site.

Published 16 Aug 2021

What is an Excavation Risk Assessment?

An excavation risk assessment is performed by a competent person like the foreman, backhoe operator, or a worker, to determine and decrease safety risks before trenching and excavating activities. Excavation risk assessments should be carried out at least daily and before the start of each shift to protect workers from cave-ins, making sure that protective systems such as sloping, benching, shoring, shielding, and other engineering controls are properly in place and in good condition.

This article briefly discusses:

The Importance of Excavation Checklists

Excavation checklists are used to perform safety inspections and risk assessments for excavation and trenching projects. Excavation checklists are an essential tool used during pre-operations to evaluate the jobsite, utilities and equipment, access means, area atmosphere, and support systems to determine existing and predictable hazards and implement prompt corrective measures to eliminate or control these dangerous conditions.

A Practical Guide on Excavation Risk Assessments

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that excavating is recognized as one of the most hazardous construction operations. In some situations, hazard potential increases, especially after rainstorms and when fissures, tension cracks, and water seepage occur, and the protection system design can be complex, generally if there is any change in the spoil pile and any indication of movement in adjacent structures. Listed below are simple steps on performing an excavation risk assessment:

  • Excavation Training

    The site safety supervisor, compliance officer, or competent person assigned to conduct the excavation risk assessment should have a clear understanding of soil mechanics, determination of soil type, and test equipment for evaluating soil type, support system design such as shoring types (hydraulic and pneumatic) and shielding types (trench boxes and combined use with sloping and benching), and OSHA excavation requirements.

  • Hazard Identification

    To effectively anticipate and mitigate risks at an excavation site, the inspector should be able to detect hazards, especially in ingress/egress and loading/unloading areas and in the actual trenching activities, whether deep excavations or manual excavations. The most common excavation hazards include:

    • falls, falling loads, crushing, and entrapment;
    • construction vehicles or mobile equipment;
    • underground services or utility lines; and
    • exposure to hazardous contaminants and toxic atmospheres.

Excavation risk assessors should also be able to identify potential system failures conditions that could lead to cave-ins such as standing water and water accumulation, bulging at the bottom, and weakening adjacent structures.

  • Corrective/Preventive Action

    Since excavation safety can be a matter of life or death, it is crucial to take prompt corrective actions to remove hazards and minimize risks, even to stop working when the situation demands it. Additional precautions and control measures should be adequately documented in the excavation method statement and risk assessment report.
    Apart from requiring all workers to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times and all equipment operators to possess the necessary certifications, excavators or excavation site operators should reinforce mandatory trench boxes when the depth exceeds minimum thresholds, allow adequate breaks during the heat season, and strive to control access zones, limiting personnel from entering the trench and work area.

  • Excavation Safety Meetings

    One of the effectiveness indicators of a risk assessment for excavation works is when all workers not only become more aware of the identified hazards and controlled risks onsite, but they also intentionally demonstrate safer behaviors at work. To help reinforce excavation safety, every team should conduct safety meetings or toolbox talks regularly.
    Site safety supervisors, compliance officers, and training coordinators, in partnership with the competent person-in-charge of excavation risk assessments and the registered professional engineer (RPE), should communicate lessons learned and practice excavation toolbox talks, discussing:

    • what to do before excavating;
    • what not to do during excavation;
    • the factors that determine the appropriate protective system to use;
    • the different types of protective systems used to protect against cave-ins; and
    • emergency procedures for trench cave-ins, among other relevant excavation safety topics
  • Record-keeping

    To ensure continuous improvement and building a culture of excavation safety, excavators and workers should work together in keeping a close eye on the hazards identified, risks controlled, and corrective/preventive measures applied, spot trends, and eventually be able to more accurately predict potential risks and prevent them even before they happen.

Mobile-ready Excavation Risk Assessments with iAuditor

An effective excavation risk assessment done regularly is only the beginning of excavation safety. It takes commitment and consistency from both the employer and employees to build and sustain a culture of excavation safety. With free mobile-ready excavation risk assessment and safety checklists from iAuditor by SafetyCulture, you can:

  • Easily convert paper risk assessment forms into mobile-ready excavation checklists with smartscan or customize pre-built, industry templates with drag-and-drop editor
  • Use excavation risk assessment and safety checklists anytime, anywhere, and on any mobile device—even when offline
  • Take or attach photo evidence of the trenching and excavating risk assessments or excavation safety inspections and annotate images for improved visual reference
  • Assign corrective/preventive actions with a priority level and due date to eliminate existing and predictable hazards or safety risks immediately
  • Auto-generate and secure excavation safety reports in the cloud and share them to personnel with a tap of a finger

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Shine Colcol

Shine Colcol is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2019, mostly covering topics about health and safety, environmental, and operations management. She is passionate in empowering teams to build a culture of continuous improvement through well-researched and engaging content. Her experience in cross-industry digital publishing help enrich the quality of information in her articles.

Shine Colcol is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2019, mostly covering topics about health and safety, environmental, and operations management. She is passionate in empowering teams to build a culture of continuous improvement through well-researched and engaging content. Her experience in cross-industry digital publishing help enrich the quality of information in her articles.