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Digging and Excavation Tips for the Summer

July 30, 2020

Avoid Taking Short Cuts When Digging and Excavating This Summer
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines an excavation as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal." A trench is defined as "a narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground. In general, the depth of a trench is greater than its width, but the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet (4.6 m).” 

Both excavation and trenching are high risk for workers, so OSHA has established detailed guidelines to help employers minimize accidents. Because summer brings pressure to complete work while the weather is favorable, it may be tempting to take short-cut the guidelines. Consider the following scenarios:

  • It’s been a hot summer in most parts of the country and a construction worker wants to get a jump on the day’s work in the coolness of the early morning. He decides to start digging before others arrive at the job site. He assumes the site has been inspected for underground hazards, and doesn’t see any utility or line markings so he assumes he’s good to go. Just a couple of minutes into his dig he hits a water line. He’s lucky it wasn’t the electric line sitting several yards away.  None of the underground hazards were marked yet at this site and the employer failed to communicate that to the construction team. 


  • On a different site, a worker is trenching, but failed to have someone inspect the site to determine soil type so she is unsure of the type of prevention system she should be using. Depending on the type of soil, one cubic yard can weigh as much as a car, so a cave-in can be catastrophic if the appropriate prevention system isn’t being used. The worker assigned to conduct the site inspection arrives and quickly gets the worker out of the trench and advises she should be sloping the sides of the excavation to maintain a safe trench.

Avoid shortcuts! Employers are responsible for knowing and communicating OSHA’s guidelines for safe digging, excavating and trenching. This can help keep their employees safe and avoid the many hazards associated with this type of work. The fatality rate for excavation work is 112 percent higher than the rate for general construction, OSHA data shows. Find an overview of OSHA requirements here.

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