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September 13, 2011

Strategies For Safer Trenching

OSHA reports excavation fatality rates are 112 percent higher than general construction activities. Following some basic safety procedures can minimize the possibility of a trench accident, or reduce the amount of time and effort needed for a rescue if an accident occurs. Here are some key strategies for safer trenching:

Buried Electric Cable sign1. Study Before Digging. An individual with specialized training in trenching safety should inspect the site carefully and address challenges associated with the soil that will be handled, utility lines or pipelines, underground storage tanks, nearby traffic and the possibility of water unexpectedly filling the trench.

2. Once Excavation Begins:
  • Keep heavy equipment away from trench edges.
  • Keep spoils/surcharge loads at least 2 feet (0.6 meters) from trench edges.
  • Know where underground utilities are located.
  • Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes and toxic gases.
  • Inspect trenches at the start of each shift, and any time an action increases the hazard.
  • Inspect trenches following a rainstorm.
  • Do not work under raised loads. Call Before Digging Label
3. Provide and Protect Access. If the trench is at least four feet deep, OSHA regulations call for proper egress within 25 feet of all workers. The egress must be designed by someone with the proper training, and integrity must be ensured so that components of the egress will not separate in the event of an incident.

4. Be Ready to Rescue. The safety plan should include a complete rescue plan that addresses how workers should respond in a variety of situations. The rescue plan should also address who will brief and coordinate with the fire department and other outside rescue personnel that respond to an incident.

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