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Learn everything you need to know about excavation safety—OSHA trenching and excavation standards, hazards, safety measures, and more.
Published March 10th, 2021
Excavation Safety is a standardized set of safety precautions for trenching and excavation to eliminate hazards and control risks in compliance with regulations. It is also referred to as Trenching and Excavation Safety as often cited by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
This article covers the following topics:
OSHA excavation standards are specifications of requirements for trenching and excavation, including protective systems. In U.S. federal regulations, OSHA standards for excavations are specifically found in Title 29 (Labor) Part 1926 (Safety and Health Regulations for Construction) Subpart P (Excavations), or 29 CFR 1926 subpart P. The excavation regulation also contains appendices for the following:
The scope and application of excavation standards states that excavations include trenches which means that a trench is a type of excavation. Moreover, a trench is further defined as a narrow excavation in relation to its length, and it is generally greater in depth than width. The main difference is that “excavation” is the umbrella term that encompasses any man-made cut in an earth surface, including trenches. While a trench can be called a trench excavation and all trenches are excavations, not all excavations are made up of trenches only.
Excavation and trenching are amongst the most dangerous operations in the construction industry. Dangers can include cave-ins, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and hazards from using heavy equipment. Regular pre-work inspections can reduce hazards and serious risk of injury. Safety inspections should check for the type of excavation being conducted, support and warning systems in place, access areas, weather conditions, heavy equipment, and PPE.
“As any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal,” according to the OHSA definition, excavations involve many hazards. Here are some of the dangers brought by excavations:
A cave-in is probably the deadliest excavation hazard, where walls can suddenly collapse without warning, workers do not have time to move out of the way, and cubic yards of dirt can fatally crush and suffocate. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveal that 3 out of 4 excavation-related fatalities are caused by cave-ins.
An OSHA investigation reported that the main reason why trenches collapse is that they are not properly protected. Protective systems such as sloping the ground, benching the ground, shoring the trench with supports such as planking or hydraulic jacks, and shielding the trench using a trench box should be properly implemented at all times. Other excavation safety measures include:
OSHA requires employers to implement protective measures for the safety of employees before they can work on and near excavations. Here are some examples of excavation protection:
A competent person in excavation safety is an individual, designated by the employer, who has the authorization to take immediate corrective actions to eliminate excavation-related hazards that are dangerous to workers. Moreover, an excavation competent person should be able to classify soil, inspect protective systems, design structural ramps, monitor water removal equipment, and perform site inspections.
Undoubtedly, adequate training plays an essential role to ensure excavation safety. Common excavation course content usually discusses basic definitions, pre-planning, and protective systems. Enrol now and train your team with this free excavation and trenching course from EdApp, an award-winning mobile microlearning platform. With today’s technology, you can easily deploy and track excavation safety training across multiple sites from wherever you are.
Another way to help reinforce excavation safety is by conducting toolbox talks regularly. Listed below are sample ideas of relevant excavation safety topics you can talk about with your team:
To protect workers from injuries and fatalities, preventive measures should be implemented when workers begin excavating. According to OSHA, general safety measures to follow should cover the following:
A regular excavation risk assessment can help improve excavation safety in the workplace. iAuditor by SafetyCulture is a mobile-ready app that helps ensure safety protocols were followed by employees before commencing excavation works.
With iAuditor, a competent person can perform excavation risk assessment anytime, anywhere, on any mobile device—even when offline. They can capture photo evidence of noncompliance with excavation safety protocols and generate excavation risk assessment reports instantly with a tap of a finger. They can easily share, access, and review these reports as it is automatically stored in a cloud.
Daily excavation safety inspections are ideally conducted before shift starts and, as deemed necessary, during work. Replace your paper-based excavation inspection forms with free digital excavation templates you can use with the iAuditor Excavation Safety Software. Available on Android, iOS, and the web, use iAuditor to take photos of excavation hazards, schedule inspections for your officials in the field, and generate PDF reports in real-time on your smartphone.
SafetyCulture staff writer
Carlo Sheen Escano is a contributing writer for SafetyCulture based in Makati City, Philippines. Sheen has experience in digital marketing and has been writing for SafetyCulture since 2018. His articles mainly discuss risks in the workplace and well-known safety and quality processes used to mitigate them. Furthermore, Sheen is passionate about providing insights to global customers on how technology can help them to do the best work of their lives.
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