Prioritize Employee Safety When Trenching and Excavating

July 19, 2022

Trenching and excavating are among the most dangerous jobs in the construction industry, according to The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). With an increase in these types of projects and services during the hot summer months when the weather is more predictable, it’s important to understand what is considered a trenching and excavating job as well as how to keep your teams safe.

Trenching & Excavating Defined By OSHA
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).”

Watch for the Top Project Dangers
According to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA), one of the most dangerous types of accidents associated with trenching and excavating are cave-ins. Cave-ins occur when the walls of an excavation collapse. This spring, two Michigan workers were killed as the result of a cave-in accident when they were placing underground drainage for a building project.

According to MIOSHA, the other top dangers associated with this type of work include falling loads, standing water, hazardous atmospheres and mobile equipment.

Reduce Trenching & Excavating Accidents
When conducting a trenching or excavating job, follow OSHA’s guidelines to help minimize accidents:

  • Ensure a competent person has inspected the trenches daily and before each shift
  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges
  • Know where underground utilities are located before digging
  • Test for atmospheric hazards such as low oxygen
  • Confirm personnel is wearing high-visibility clothing
  • Establish and follow protective systems, including benching, sloping, shoring, and shielding

Employers are responsible for knowing and communicating OSHA’s guidelines for safe digging, excavating, and trenching. These practices, paired with appropriate training and protections, can help keep your employees safe and avoid the many hazards associated with trenching and excavating.


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