Blog Post

5 Ways to Prevent Injury During Excavation


Hazards during excavations can lead to serious incidents involving workers at construction sites. Trenches are the most serious threat as workers can be critically injured or die in cave-ins. Hazards such as falling into trenches or excavations, tripping over debris, objects falling on workers, exposure to underground services or overhead electrical cables, unstable adjacent structures, hazardous atmosphere such as toxic or explosive gasses and incidents involving vehicles and other mobile equipment all pose serious threats to safety.

Many workers may have a casual attitude toward safety, on the part of both employers and workers as they believe a cave-in will not happen to them. Because they believe cave-ins rarely occur, they are willing to enter an unprotected trench for a short time. A single cubic yard of dirt can weigh between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds depending on the soil type and moisture content which highlights the importance of protecting workers from cave-ins. Statistics from the US indicate that cave-ins caused 67% of excavation injuries.  Injuries from backhoes were the second leading cause of injuries.  With these facts in mind, here are five ways to prevent injuries during excavation:

  1. Having a plan in place prior to excavation is the first step towards ensuring injuries or emergencies do not occur. Knowing in advance what tools and equipment are needed contributes to safety. Both workers, employers and project designers should be involved in identifying and implementing proper safety practices. Provide all employees with information regarding health and safety or safe work policies specific to the workplace. Workers should be advised of any potential health or safety dangers and appropriate precautions such as wearing personal protective equipment should be taken.
  2. Use protective systems against trench or excavation cave-ins. Sloping which involves cutting back trench walls at an angle should be inclined away from the excavation. Shoring using timber and hydraulic systems should be used as supports to shore up walls. Using prefabricated support systems such as trench boxes and shields can also be used for safety. Prior to excavation, strip the walls of trenches of any loose rock that may slide or fall on workers. Inspect trenches at the beginning of shifts and following heavy rainstorms.
  3. Mark and locate utilities before excavation.  Employers must ensure that all gas, electrical and other services are located or marked in or near the area to be excavated.  If a service poses a hazard, it must be shut off and disconnected before the excavation begins.
  4. Ensure that workers do not enter unprotected trenches. Trenches l.5 meters deep or greater require a protective system unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. There must be safe access to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps or other safe means of exit for employees working in trench excavations. Keep the area around the excavation free of debris or construction material.

Operate and use all equipment in a safe manner. Defects in equipment should be reported to supervisors or employers. Be aware of mobile equipment or vehicles which can cause the soil to vibrate.

Taking reasonable precautions during excavation ensures that a project proceeds in a safe manner for everyone involved. Incidents at the work site are minimized and injuries are less likely to occur when safe work practices are followed.

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