OSHA and Safety
A Guide To OSHA's Trenching and Excavation Safety Regulations
Trenching and excavations are serious jobs that require meticulous safety precautions. Because you and your crew are working inside of a man made cut in the earth, it is important to take all possible measures to prevent cave-ins. From excavation risks to trench box rentals, here is what you should know.
What Are The Dangers?
According to OSHA, cave-ins pose more risk than any other hazard, as they are more likely to cause fatalities. With one cubic yard of soil weighing as much as a car, OSHA warns that "an unprotected trench is an early grave. Do not enter an unprotected trench." Other dangers include falls, environmental hazards, falling loads or objects, and accidents caused by moving equipment.
What Are The Safety Requirements?
OSHA lists the following requirements:
- If a tench is five feet deep or greater, the crew must install a protective system, such as an excavation shoring box or a trench shield. They give an exception for excavations made entirely of stable rock. If it less then five feet deep, a "competent person may determine that a protective system is not required."
- If a trench is 20 feet deep or greater, an engineer needs to access the area, make calculations, and design a protective system specific to that trench. An employer must inspect a trench every day and as conditions change. This inspection should be done by a "competent person," who is anyone who is knowledgeable of hazardous conditions, the dangers they pose to workers, and who can take action to fix them.
- OSHA also requires that employers provide a way for workers to enter and exit the trench, such as a ladder or steps. This is required in all trenches 4 feet deep or greater and must be within 25 feet of workers at all times.
- In addition to the above requirements, OSHA also recommends that crews keep all heavy equipment away from the trench, inspect the trench frequently, test the soil and environment, and dress properly. They also say not to work under raised materials.
What Equipment Can I Use?
OSHA recommends sloping, shoring, and shielding. Sloping is when you cut the trench wall on an angle away from the excavation. Shoring is when you install a shoring system to prevent the dirt wall from caving in. Shielding involves installing a trench box or other supports to protect workers in case of a cave-in. This equipment is available through services such as trench box rental.
Source: OSHA Fact Sheet