Nationally, two workers are killed each month in trenches and excavations as a result of cave-ins, falls and other unfortunate accidents. Although this work can pose serious safety hazards, some of these deaths could have been prevented. If your contracting company works with earth removal, these safety tips could one day save a life.
What is the Difference between a Trench and an Excavation?
An excavation is any man-made cut, cavity, trench or depression in an earth surface formed by an earth removal.
A trench is a narrow excavation made below the surface of the ground. Its depth is generally greater than its width. However, the width of a trench must not be greater than 15 feet. Trenches that are five feet deep or greater require a protective system unless the excavation is made entirely of rock. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that a protective system be designed and/or approved by a registered professional engineer.
What are the Dangers of these Jobs?
Trenching and excavation work can be dangerous if not performed properly.
Cave-ins present the greatest safety risk for contractors. Since one cubic yard can weigh as much as an automobile, an unprotected trench is a recipe for disaster.
Potential hazards include:
- Falling loads
- Hazardous atmospheres
- Equipment incidents
What are OSHA’s Excavation Standards, and how do they Protect Workers?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has established excavation standards to protect American workers. These safety tips, which apply to all open excavations made in the Earth’s surface, can prevent or greatly reduce the risk of cave-ins and other excavation-related incidents.
Since many incidents result from inadequate initial planning, OSHA stresses that each job should be approached with care and preparation. Employers also need to know as much as possible about a jobsite and its materials needed to perform work safely.
OSHA standards require that employers have a “competent person” inspect trenches daily and as conditions change before workers enter them. A competent person is an individual who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions and is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate these hazards and conditions.
Trench and Excavation Safety Tips
Before your employees get into a trench, your company should reinforce several safety tips that could potentially save lives.
- Don’t position heavy equipment near trench edges
- Identify other sources that could affect trench stability
- Place excavation soil and other materials at least two feet from trench edges
- Know where underground utilities are located before digging
- Test for atmospheric hazards, like low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases
- Inspect trenches at the start of every shift, after a rainstorm or after conditions change
Your employees can also improve safety if you train them to spot signs of imminent trench collapse, including bulging and toppling.
Although trenching and excavation jobs pose serious hazards, it’s possible to keep your workforce safe by following these simple, but important steps.