According to OSHA, excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous jobs in the construction industry. The agency defines excavation as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal. A trench is a “narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and is no wider than 15 feet (4.5 meters).” OSHA has made it a top priority to make sure you have the knowledge, tools, and techniques needed to stay safe when working in and around excavations and trenches. Here are 5 tips to always keep in mind.
Have Protective Systems
Three of the protective systems available to help keep the site safe are the three S’s – sloping, shoring, and shielding. According to OSHA, the factors you must consider are “soil classification, depth of the cut, the water content in the soil, changes to the weather and climate, surcharge loads (e.g., spoil, other materials that may need to be used in the trench, and other things going on in the vicinity).” Take the time to do your research and see which protective system best fits the site you are working on.
Keep the Site Safe
Make sure every trench is protected with one of the systems mentioned above prior to entering. Trenches that are five feet deep or greater are required to have a protective system, like aluminum hydraulics to help provide support, unless they are made entirely of stable rock (most are made of soil). Trenches that are 20 feet deep or greater require a protective system that is designed by a registered professional who is able to identify hazards or working conditions that are dangerous to employees.
Keep Your Materials Close
Trenches and excavation sites are often dark, so it’s important to make sure your tools are secure and visible. When putting on your tool belt before work, make sure your tools are easily accessible. It is also be helpful to have a halo light on hand, so you can use it if it is hard to see.
Keep Heavy Equipment Away!
The trench edges can be very temperamental. You never know when rock is going to crumble or if the ground is going to be too slippery to work. Heavy objects that are placed near the trenches are a major hazard to everyone as they can fall into the trench and ruin your work – or worse, seriously injure or even kill someone.
Inspect the Trenches
It’s essential to do a thorough inspection before entering or working in trenches. Unseen, undetected, or unexpected dangerous substances or materials may be present – or may crop up due to any number of factors. For example, there can be low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases in the area.
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