Basic Trench Safety
Trenching is one the most dangerous parts of construction, according to OSHA, which is why it’s crucial to know the hazards of trenching as well as the precautions you can take to ensure your team remains safe while working and using trenching equipment.
Risks of Trenching
Trenches pose several risks to workers — especially when trench shields aren’t in use. These hazards include:
- Cave-ins: The biggest risk to trench teams are cave-ins, especially because a single cubic yard of dirt can weigh as much as a car. Injuries and deaths from cave-ins continue to increase in the U.S., even though they’re a basic component of trench safety.
- Falling loads: Materials like rocks and soils, as well as nearby equipment, can roll or fall into a trench. Like cave-ins, falling loads are preventable by following OSHA safety standards and recommendations. Falling loads can also apply to materials being removed from a delivery vehicle.
- Atmospheres: Excavations near landfills or facilities that store hazardous materials or take place in manholes and prefabricated storm drains have an increased chance of encountering harmful contaminants in the air.
- Mobile equipment: Machinery that’s movable also poses a hazard because it can roll into a trench, but also remain hidden if it’s not in every team member’s line of sight. If a crew member doesn’t see the equipment and it’s on, they risk injury.
Understanding trenching hazards is the foundation to implementing the necessary safety precautions to reduce or eliminate these risks.
Safety Precautions for Trenching
Several techniques, as well as hardware, are available to ensure worker safety when digging trenches. These tactics include:
- Use trench shields: Protective systems, like trench boxes or shields, are essential. Rent or purchase a shield and equip it with a handrail system for a continuous barrier for lengthy trenches. Sloping the sides of your excavation at a moderate angle, versus extreme, also reduces your chance of a cave-in.
- Wear protective equipment: Give your team protective equipment when working near hazardous conditions. OSHA recommends using a breathing apparatus as well as a safety harness and line.
- Institute a warning system: Rules and systems are crucial for preventing trench accidents and injuries. Use hand or mechanical motions to communicate hazards or statuses, or place barricades to mark the edge of your work site.
Enforcing these basic safety standards — as well as expanding on them through safety courses from OSHA or other organizations — keeps construction teams safe and in line with OSHA standards.
Trench Safety Equipment at NMC
At NMC, we assist in making trench worksites safe. Our rental aluminum trench boxes by Cat® provide security and assurance without the upfront purchase cost. Contact us today to learn more about renting your next piece of trench safety equipment.