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Protecting Your Workers from Trenching and Excavation Hazards

Construction work often involves trenching and excavation. Many common activities take workers below ground level, including pouring walls for a basement, burying underground utility lines, or installing a culvert. Working at depth requires added protections to prevent cave-ins and other hazards associated with this kind of work.

According to the most recent stats from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, between 2000-2009, 350 workers died in cave-ins while trenching or excavating. A separate analysis of OSHA data showed that 64% percent of fatalities happened in trenches less than ten feet deep. This level of fatalities makes more sense when you consider that one cubic yard of soil can weigh over 3,000 lbs. Even a relatively small collapse can cause serious injury or death.

Safety Measures for Trenching and Excavation: Sloping, Shoring, Shielding

OSHA regulations are robust when it comes to protecting workers doing tasks below ground. Protections to prevent a trench collapse involve three things: sloping, shoring, and shielding.

Sloping a trench involves creating a gentle slope or series of stepped grades away from the trench in order to reduce the amount of soil present at the edge of the trench. It also helps relieve stress on the trench walls by removing additional soil weight. Shoring involves supporting trench walls using hydraulic jacks, posts, beams, or planking. Shielding involves using a trench box or other specially designed system to prevent soil from collapsing in on the trench.

Don’t Overlook Inspections

OSHA regulations require the daily inspection of open trenches by a designated competent person to ensure safe working conditions. Additional inspections are required if conditions in the trench area change. Examples of this may include a rainstorm or other means of water entering the trench, potentially compromising its stability.

Trenching and excavation work is common across the construction industry. The collapse of a trench on a job site carries with it an enormous chance for worker injuries or deaths. But with properly trained workers, daily inspections, and the right safety equipment in place working below ground doesn’t have to carry significant risks.

If you’re interested in onsite safety inspections, training, or assistance further understanding how to protect your workers from trenching and excavating hazards, feel free to give us a call at 864.905.7835.

OSHA Resources: