Excavation Safety in the Workplace
Excavations can be a normal part of everyday operations at a lot of job sites across the country, but this does not discount the fact that excavations can still be extremely dangerous. If you do not know what you’re doing around an excavation, or you are not aware of your surroundings and the conditions related to the excavation, you are simply asking for trouble and could experience an incident that could serious injure or even kill you. There have been several occurrences where workers were working in a trench only for the walls to collapse and trap them inside. Luckily, some were able to be dug out and they were able to escape without too much harm or injury, others were not so lucky and paid the price with their lives. By knowing your excavation safety, you can help prevent incidents such as these and perform successful, and safe, excavations.
Soil can become extremely heavy, so it is important to not dig your trenches and excavations too deep. The deeper the trench is, the bigger a threat it becomes to cave in and trap someone inside. Soil can be fickle and cave in without any prior notice, so it is important that every single excavation you perform is done properly and correctly. Keep in mind that each and every trench is its own animal. Variables such as soil moisture, soil type, depth, configuration, proximity to already existing structures, and locations of nearby spoil piles can all affect how a particular trench is going to behave. When working on excavation and trenching, remember the following.
- Follow the directions of your competent person closely and carefully. It is their job to make sure that the excavation goes smoothly and safely. They are also responsible for making sure that the excavation is properly protected so that you and your coworkers can go about your tasks safely.
- If the trench ends up being deeper than 5 feet, then it MUST be protected from cave-ins. The only exception to this rule is if the trench is made completely of stable rock. By properly sloping back the sides of the cut or benching the excavation, adequate protection can be provided. Reinforcement can also be provided through installing shoring or implementing trenching boxes. If boxes or shoring are used, make sure that the top of the box is extended AT LEAST 18 inches above the trench. If the trench ends up being deeper than 6 feet, then you will have to use fall protection around the perimeter to protect workers who will be working on the surface.
- Any and all spoil piles must be at least 2 feet in distance from the edge of the trench. The edge of the trench is where the slough of the pile ends. If you position spoil piles any closer than this, then the soil will create too much pressure on the walls of the trench and the chances of a wall failure greatly increase.
- Ladders must be positioned within the trench so that workers are never further than 25 feet from a ladder.
If you are one of the workers that will actually be entering the trench, you will want to inspect the methods being used to protect the excavation. This includes the condition of the shoring equipment and how stable the ladders are that are positioned around the trench. Before ever climbing down the ladder and entering the trench, make sure that the spoil pile is positioned an adequate distance from the edge of the trench (remember 2 feet) along with any other equipment that is near the trench. You want to be completely comfortable will all your surroundings and safety precautions before ever setting foot in the trench. If you follow the above guidelines and notify your supervisor of anything that requires prior attention BEFORE entering the excavation, you should be able to enter the trench with peace of mind and confidence that you can complete the job efficiently, and most importantly, safely. Excavation safety is important! Don’t neglect it!