An excavation is an inherently hazardous work environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 271 workers died from cave-ins from 2000 through 2006, and other hazards including falling objects and potentially dangerous breathing environments contribute additional risk. Adherence to OSHA trenching and excavation standards and consistently following sound safety practices are essential to making an excavation a safe working environment.
Carefully plan your excavation before you break ground. Survey and map your proposed excavation site and contact local utility companies to identify all underground lines in the vicinity. Physically mark all utility line locations before you begin the excavation.
Protective System Installation
No matter how stable the soil at the excavation site is, a protective system is essential as even hard-packed clay can cave in with no restraining barrier in place. OSHA requires all excavations be equipped with a protective system except for those dug from solid rock. Sloping and benching systems do not involve a physical barrier. Sloping requires carving the excavation walls at an angle from the excavation floor to provide a stable slope, while benching relies upon cutting the walls into a series of steps or terraces. Shoring and shielding rely on physical barrier construction to preserve excavation wall integrity.
All equipment, tools and excavated material should be kept at least two feet from the excavation to protect workers from the risk of injury from falling objects. Workers must still be required to wear hard hats at all times as an additional safeguard from falling debris.
Providing Respiratory Gear
Excavations as shallow as four feet below ground level can present hazardous breathing environments. Test air quality before allowing workers into the excavation and issue respiratory gear if the breathing environment is toxic. If you are dealing with a toxic environment, OSHA requires that emergency breathing apparatus and rescue equipment be on-site and accessible at all times.
OHSA requires daily inspections of the excavation by a competent person, defined as a worker able to identify and anticipate hazards within the excavation and empowered to rectify them. Inspectors must check wall and barrier stability, atmosphere quality and be alert for general work site hazards. Safety inspections must also be conducted after any rainfall before work can be allowed to resume.
Ladders, ramps or stairways must be provided in excavations that are at least four feet deep. OSHA requires that workers have available exits no further than 25 feet from them at any time. Ladders should rise three feet above the excavation surface for additional safety.
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- Texas Department of Insurance: Excavation Safety
- United States Department of Labor: OSHA Fact Sheet: Trenching and Excavation Safety
- United States Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Excavations
- Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health: Excavation Safety
- "Occupational Health & Safety"; Safe Excavation Work Essentials; Stephen V. Magyar, Jr., March, 2006