The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers excavation and trenching among the most hazardous operations in construction. According to OSHA, an excavation is defined as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal.” On the other hand, a trench is defined as “a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet (4.5 meters).”

In part one of this two-part guide, an OSHA defense lawyer will address the dangers of digging and the appropriate procedures for keeping your team safe during excavation and trenching.

Dangers of Trenching and Excavation

According to OSHA, cave-ins pose the most immediate threat to a worker’s safety. Cave-ins are unpredictable and often result in fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment. Trench collapses result in dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries annually.

Safety Requirements

Entering an unprotected trench is dangerous. If a trench is 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep or greater, and isn’t made completely in stable rock, it requires a protective system. Larger trenches reaching depths of 20 feet (6.1 meters) or more require a protective system designed by a registered professional engineer.

Protective Systems

There are many types of protectives systems designed to keep workers safe.

  • Sloping: trimming back the walls of the trench at an angle slanting away from the excavation.
  • Shoring: installing aluminum hydraulic or similar supports to prevent soil movement and cave-ins.
  • Shielding: using trench boxes or other types of supports to counteract soil cave-ins.

Protective systems should be designed by registered professional engineers who can account for inconsistent variables like soil classification, depth of cut, water content of soil, changes due to weather or climate, surcharge loads, and the effects of other local operations.

Trenching and excavation are integral to successful construction projects, but keeping your team safe and compliant with OSHA requirements can be difficult. An OSHA defense attorney can help streamline this process and ensure that your project is finished on time without any injuries. You can learn more about safe excavation and trenching in part two of this two-part guide

If you would like to speak with an OSHA defense attorney please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.