A single cubic yard of soil weighs around 3,000 pounds. That’s about the same weight as an average car.
It is this extreme weight, among other dangerous factors, that makes trenching and excavation so hazardous for its workers.
The best defense against these dangers is to strengthen your understanding of all the safety hazards and know how to prevent them. This knowledge protects not only yourself but your fellow workers as well.
Before beginning any project, big or small, learn the specifics about trenching and excavation safety. Down below you’ll find a lot of core information that gets you started on the right foot to expanding your safety knowledge.
Most Common Trenching and Excavation Hazards
There are typical construction hazards to look out for, such as heavy machinery malfunction and misuse, and falling loads. Trenching adds even more on top of those, with deadly atmospheres, workers falling, and problems made by mobile equipment.
But by far the most dangerous and most common hazard during trench excavation are cave-ins. The softer the soil you work, the more dangerous it becomes. Digging through solid rock all but eliminates the problem of cave-ins.
Cave-ins are most often caused by the following:
- Sandy or loose soil that isn’t protected
- Heavy equipment in the wrong place
- Weather changes, especially with the inclusion of rain
- Vibrations caused by heavy machinery
- Excessive traffic in and around the construction site
The Keys to Trenching and Excavation Safety
Even with many hazards found within the work site, there are many safety measures workers use to make everything run as safe as possible. Before you begin any project, make certain you and your workers know every safety measure by heart.
Wear Proper Protective Gear
This almost seems a given, but it is so important that it goes at the top of any excavation safety list. When something happens, you don’t want to rely on luck to save you.
Always maintain proper protective gear usage, no matter what. If you see another worker take off their gear for whatever reason, speak up. Even the safest looking construction sites pose threats that you shouldn’t underestimate.
Use Slope, Shore, and Shield
By using these three methods, you’ll cut back the chances for cave-ins by a large degree. These are protective systems put into place by OSHA’s trench regulations and they save many lives.
Sloping is the act of cutting the trench’s wall at an inclined angle, leading it away from the active excavation area.
Shoring is adding hydraulic supports and other ways of strengthening the trenches as you continue to work to prevent cave-ins.
Shielding is the act of adding physical barrier supports like trench boxes that further prevent cave-ins.
Never allow anyone near an unprotected trench until protective systems are in place.
Constant Atmosphere Tests
If the trench goes further than four feet, atmospheric tests are necessary. You’ll test for oxygen levels and the presence of any toxic fumes. Tests begin before work begins for the day.
If any test shows that the oxygen is too low or that there are hazardous gases in the work area, no one goes in.
Keep Heavy Equipment Away From Edges
Placing heavy equipment close to trench edges is the same as asking for a cave-in. Instead, plan out where you move equipment across the work site. Give every trench a wide berth so that the added pressure does not crumble the trench.
On top of this, make certain you only use equipment from reputable companies. Ditch Witch, for example, is one of the leading names in trenching and excavation equipment.
Maintain Safe Exits and Entrances
When a trench goes deeper than four feet into the earth, exits and entrances both are important pieces to the safety puzzle.
Every worker needs access to a ramp, stair, or ladder within 25 feet of their work area. This gives them quick access in and out of the trench as needs arise. Furthermore, ladders should extend a few feet above the top of the trench for easier usage.
Stay Away From Underground Utilities
Planning is a big part of keeping workers safe. As part of this, different underground utilities are a hazardous surprise when proper planning is not done.
As you make plans for your work site, call ahead to find out what utilities lie underneath the area. With this knowledge, you’ll stop any accidental gas or water pipes from bursting on site as you dig your way down. Instead, you’ll know how to work around them, keeping everyone safe.
Always Keep a Competent Person On Site
A competent person is someone trained in analyzing a work site and knowing the correct ways to implement any protective system. They’ll guide workers every step of the way to ensure that everything performs in the safest manner possible.
They also have the knowledge and experience to inspect the workplace every day before any work begins. This is extra important when weather and other day-to-day changes occur that shift and change the site.
When in doubt, your work site’s competent person is the one to turn to for answers.
Put an Emergency Plan in Place
Even with every single safety measure accounted for, accidents happen. There’s no way to prevent every single possible problem that occurs in a place as rife with dangers as a trenching and excavation site.
In those cases, emergency plans are your next step. Every person on the site needs the assured knowledge of what to do when an emergency happens.
There is no waiting in this. Always have a plan, or even several different plans, in place so that everyone knows how to react no matter the type of emergency. Before any work ever starts, emergency plans are the number one priority.
Use These Safety Measures to Strengthen Worker Protection
By using these trenching and excavation safety measures, you’ll ensure that every single person is safer. Although this sort of construction work is dangerous, this is the best safeguard against those dangers.
Don’t forget to review this information on a regular basis. That way it stays at the forefront of every worker’s mind and there are fewer slip-ups.
Interested in learning even more about construction? Check out the newest technology coming to this important industry.