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Trenching and excavation are among the most dangerous jobs, according to the United States Department of Labor. OSHA’s definition of excavation is any trench, cavity, depression, or cut that is man-made on the surface of the earth made by the removal of dirt. OSHA defines a trench as an underground excavation that has greater depth than width but isn’t any wider than 14-and-a-half feet. Important trench safety.
The Dangers of Working With Trenches
The greatest risk of working with trenches is cave-ins. When there is a cave-in, it is much more likely to lead to fatalities or serious injuries than other excavation accidents. Other hazards associated with trenches include falls and loads falling off as well as accidents that involve mobile equipment and its operation. Every year there are dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries from trench collapses.
Protecting Workers Around Trenches
No worker should enter a trench that isn’t protected. Trenches that are 5 feet deep or deeper must have a protective system unless it is made completely of stable rock. If a trench is 20 feet deep or more requires a protective system that is designed by a registered professional engineer or based on tabulated data that has been prepared or approved by an engineer.
Different kinds of protective systems are used for trenches. Cutting back the trench wall at an angle that is inclined away from the excavation, sloping is an effective protective system. Another option would be shoring, which requires installing aluminum hydraulic or other supports to keep soil from moving and causing cave-ins. Workers are shielded using trench boxes or other supports to help prevent cave-ins. Designing a protective system for a trench can be complicated because multiple factors must be considered including the cut depth, the soil’s water content, soil classification, changes because of the climate or the weather, the materials that are going to be used inside the trench, and other activity within the vicinity.
OSHA standards require daily inspection of trenches by a competent individual who can identify any existing hazards, predict hazards, or determine if working conditions are hazardous, unsanitary or dangerous to the workers. This competent individual must be authorized to take corrective actions to either control or eliminate the hazards.