March 10, 2016

10 Steps to Excavating Safety

Working in trenches and excavations can be one of the most dangerous construction operations. Soil cave-ins pose the greatest risk; however, there are other potential hazards including workers falling into the trench, loads falling and striking workers, hazardous gases or fumes, and being struck by equipment.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) trenching and excavation standard requires that jobsite trenches be inspected daily, as the conditions often change, and before a worker enters the trench to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. This inspection by done by someone who is both knowledgeable about excavation hazards and has the authority to fix those hazards.

What are the general trenching and excavation requirements?

  • Call before you dig. Request utility companies or owners to determine the location of underground utility installations before excavating.
  • Ensure that underground installations are protected, supported, or removed while the excavation is open.
  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges and identify other sources that might affect trench stability.
  • Keep all spoils piles and equipment at least two feet away from the edge of the excavation.
  • Use stairs, ladders, and ramps every 25 feet to exit the excavation.
  • Do not stand beneath loads handled by lifting or digging equipment.
  • Do not work in excavations where water is standing or accumulating unless special supports are used to prevent cave-ins.
  • Inspect excavations, adjacent areas, and protective systems for evidence of possible cave-ins, indications of failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, other hazardous conditions at the beginning of each workday or if the stability of the excavation could change.
  • Test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases when greater than four feet deep.
  • Wear warning vests or other high-visibility materials when working near moving equipment or vehicles.