Trench and Excavation Safety

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Two workers are killed every month in trench collapses. The employer must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards that may cause serious injury or death. The employer must comply with the trenching and excavation requirements of 29 CFR 1926.651 and 1926.652 or comparable OSHA-approved state plan requirements.

An excavation is any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in an earth surface formed by earth removal. Trench (Trench excavation) means a narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground. In general, the depth is greater than the width, but the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet.

Dangers of Trenching and Excavation

Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment. One cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car. An unprotected trench is an early grave. Do not enter an unprotected trench.

Trench Safety Measures

Trenches 5 feet deep or greater require a protective system unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. If less than 5 feet deep, a competent person may determine that a protective system is not required. Trenches 20 feet deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer or be based on tabulated data prepared and/or approved by a registered professional engineer in accordance with 1926.652(b) and (c).

Competent Person

OSHA standards require that employers inspect trenches daily and as conditions change by a competent person before worker entry to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. A competent person is an individual who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions that are hazardous, unsanitary, or dangerous to workers, soil types and protective systems required, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate these hazards and conditions.

Access and Egress

OSHA standards require safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps, or other safe means of exit for employees working in trench excavations 4 feet or deeper. These devices must be located within 25 feet of all workers.

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14 thoughts on “Trench and Excavation Safety

  1. Hi,
    Nice Article! Thanks for sharing Information!
    Safety tips for excavation are very useful. Excavation is a difficult task, one needs to have an experienced in Excavation business to avoid injury.

  2. It is definitely important that these professionals stay safe while they are doing this difficult task. A good excavation company will attend to all of the safety requirements, and probably even go the extra mile. What would a person need to be competent for inspecting trenches for hazards?

    • Thank you for your comment and question. To be competent for inspecting trenches for hazards the person must have knowledge of soil analysis, applicable standards, training and capable of identifying existing and predictable excavation and trenching hazards. That body of knowledge and experience would designated him/her as a “competent person.” If a company desires to hire a competent person, the employer is obligated to determine that persons competency.

  3. I didn’t realize that there were so many dangers in the excavation process. I suppose it makes sense seeing as excavation sites have a lot of heavy equipment and are filled with plenty of hazardous materials. I appreciate this article, making sure to practice best safety practices can mean the difference between tragedy and a job well done in the excavation world.

  4. It couldn’t be more true that there are a ton of dangers present for excavation workers. As the wife of a worker in the industry, I appreciate information like this wherever I can find it so I can make sure I share with my fb friends for awareness.

  5. I had not idea that so many people were killed each month from trench collapse. It sounds like it can be very dangerous work which is all the more reason that trusted and well experiencing excavating professionals should be charged with this kind of work. It’s important that, if you do need to hire a company for trenching or excavating, that you do your research and find one that is qualified, both for your safety and theirs.

  6. I had no idea that cave-ins could pose such a major threat when trenching and excavating. It seems like such an important process for any construction project. I’m sure that it would help to ensure that the foundation is as durable as possible.

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