Trench Safety

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Excavations and Trenches are common on all construction sites.  Because of this, it is easy to lose sight of just how dangerous excavations and trenches can be.  But the thing is… they don’t have to be hazardous.  They do require planning, and execution of that plan, to ensure they are safe, but it is easy to keep everyone that works around or in an excavation or trench safe.

First, let’s clear up some definitions.  In construction the words excavation and trench tend to be used interchangeably.  However, from the perspective of safety, they are distinctly different words.  

Definition

  • Excavation – Any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in an earth surface, formed by earth removal
  • Trench – A narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground.  In general, the depth is greater than the width, the the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is not greater than 15 feet.  If forms or other structures are installed or constructed in an excavation so as to reduce the dimension measured from the forms or structure to the side of the excavation to 15 feet or less, the excavation is also considered to be a trench.

Real World Application

  • Take the shovel out of the back of your truck and dig a hole – Excavation
  • Take a backhoe and dig a hole 25′ x 25′ x 6″ deep – Excavation
  • Make that same hole 10′ deep – Excavation
  • Place forms in that Excavation to build a 20′ x 20′ basement – Excavation inside the forms & Trench outside the forms (between the forms and the dirt walls of the original excavation.
  • Take another backhoe and dig for some sort of utilities… total of 20′ long, 5′ wide, 8′ deep – Trench
  • Install those utilities and start back filling the trench to:
    • 6′ deep – Trench
    • 5′ deep – Trench
    • 4′ deep – Excavation

Explanation

By following the though process above it is easy to see why the words are used interchangeably, because one can easily transition to the other with just some minor changes.  But, regardless of what you call it, the ultimate goal and requirement is to make sure every employee that works in or around that excavation or trench is protected at all times and that they will go home safely at the end of the day!

There are several methods of protecting workers that are involved in this type of work, including but not limited to “Sloping”, “Benching”, “Trench Boxes”, “Trench Shoring”, etc.  

Hazardous Work

Construction inherently has “hazards” but that doesn’t mean it has to be “hazardous”.  Hazards can be anything that has the potential to cause harm: Medication, Hot Coffee, Gasoline…  These all have hazards.  Hazardous comes into play when you don’t take those hazards serious and you make risky decisions. 

To keep Excavations from becoming Hazardous it is important to:

  • Know the hazards associated with trenching and excavations. 
  • Understand the steps to address those hazards (sloping, benching, shielding, etc.)  
  • Take the necessary actions to abate those hazards (actually use what is available to address the hazards…sloping, benching, etc.)

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