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Excavation and Trench Safety

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Why is Excavation and Trench Safety Important?

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.

10 Excavation Safety Tips

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:

  1. Inspect trenches daily before work begins. Don’t go near an unprotected trench.
  2. Check weather conditions before work, be mindful of rain and storms.
  3. Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
  4. Be mindful of the location of utilities underground.
  5. Always wear proper protective equipment.
  6. Don’t work beneath raised loads.
  7. Conduct atmosphere tests. If low oxygen and toxic gases were detected, workers must not enter the trench.
  8. Protective systems like benching, sloping, shoring and shielding must be created.
  9. Planning and implementation of safety measures must be done by a competent person.
  10. Use a checklist to perform regular self inspections – download free excavation safety checklists here.

 

Excavation Hazards

The common hazards associated with excavation;

  • The collapse of the sides of the excavation.
  • Materials falling onto people
  • Falls, either people or vehicles.
  • Nearby structures collapsing into the excavation.
  • Electrocution, explosion, gas leak, or flooding, caused by damage to underground services.

Excavation Precautions

Collapsing should be avoided by supporting the sides by either battering them or supporting them with sheets. Materials from the excavation should be stored at a safe distance from the excavation, this will help reduce the risk of them falling onto people. Adding barriers to excavation is an essential precaution to avoid people falling into the excavation. It is safer if vehicles are kept completely out of the excavation area but if required the use of barriers and stop-blocks should help mitigate that danger.

Cable, pipe, and service plans should be used to ensure that underground services are known so they can be marked on the ground or, ideally, the area avoided entirely. Around the areas where there are underground services mechanical equipment should be avoided and instead use spades and/or shovels. Picks and forks should be avoided as they are more likely to pierce cables and pipes. Flooding can be avoided by ensuring that there is appropriate pumping equipment so that any water that seeps into the excavation can be easily pumped out to a safe area.

 

Sources

OSHA Trenching and Excavation Safety

OSHA Excavation Safety Management

Author

Sare Hawes

SafetyCulture staff writer