According to OSHA, trenching is a leading jobsite hazard, which causes an average of 54 fatalities each year. The following are OSHA’s common trenching and excavation safety standards to help protect yourself and your crew during excavation work activity.

  • Locate and daylight/pothole buried utilities prior to excavation.
  • Trench excavations that are five feet deep or greater are required to have sloping, benching, shielding (trench box) or shoring unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock.
  • A competent person* may determine that a protective system isn’t required for trench excavations less than five feet deep.
  • A competent person must inspect the excavation and classify the soil type. The classification is based on the results of at least one visual and one manual analysis.
    • Solid Rock
    • Type A Slope ¾ to 1 (53º)
    • Type B Slope 1 to 1 (45º)
    • Type C Slope 1 ½ to 1 (34º)
  • The atmosphere must be tested before entry in trench excavations four feet in depth or greater before entry if the potential for oxygen deficiency or a hazardous atmosphere exists or could reasonably be expected to exist.
  • A ladder or other means of egress must be accessible within 25 feet of the worker’s activity for excavations four feet in depth or greater.
  • Excavated materials and equipment must be kept a minimum of two feet from the edge of excavations.
  • Excavated material must be sloped to prevent the material from re-entering the excavation.
  • A competent person must inspect excavations, protective systems and the area around the excavation daily prior to the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. They should document the inspections.
  • Employees are not to work in excavations where there is accumulated water or where water is accumulating. A pump(s) must be in place to remove accumulating water.

*A competent person is an individual who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions that are hazardous, unsanitary or dangerous to workers, soil types and protective systems required, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate these hazards and conditions.

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