Because excavating and trenching are a part of all construction projects, it is necessary to understand the safety hazards and how to prevent injuries. Even OSHA has invested time, work, and money into the study of excavation and trenching to develop safety guidelines for the protection of construction workers. This article presents not only the difference between excavating and trenching but also the hazards and safety guidelines. In the world of construction and excavation, it is indeed better to be safe than sorry, so here are some excavating tips.
Definitions and Excavating and Trenching
Excavation is any man-made digging to remove dirt from the earth’s surface. Trenching is making a narrow cut into the earth’s surface that is deeper than it is wide. Trenching is therefore, one type of excavation, but all excavation is not trenching.
Hazards and Safety in Excavating
Job equipment and workers can fall into an excavated area. Safety signage and installed barriers help a great deal to prevent falls. If a worker is down in the hole or trench, falling objects or dirt can crush the worker. OSHA requires equipment to be stored at least two feet away from the edge of an excavation. It is also recommended not to work under suspended loads.
Hazards And Safety Guidelines Of Trenching
Cave-ins take two lives per month, on average. OSHA recommends hiring an engineer or another professional who can design something that prevents cave-ins, such as sloping, shielding, or supporting. Wet weather decreases soil stability, so after precipitation or other water source hitting the trench, it is imperative to inspect the trench at the beginning of each work shift. Sometimes a trench collects stagnant air, contaminated with gases and chemicals. For this reason, a qualified professional should conduct atmospheric testing to determine if respirator equipment should be worn.
Dump trucks, backhoe loaders, and other mobile vehicles are common hazards of trenching sites because views of the landscape and trench can be easily obstructed. OSHA recommends flaggers be designated to direct drivers away from the trench. Wear reflective vests and hard hats. Trenches of five feet deep or more require a protective system to prevent a cave-in unless the trench is cut into the stable rock. If the trench is 20 feet or deeper, the protective system must be designed by an engineer. Systems to prevent cave-in are sloping, shoring/supporting, and shielding. Sloping involves cutting back the trench wall, inclined away from the excavation. Shoring entails the installation of aluminum or other supports to prevent soil movement. Shielding uses trench boxes to stabilize the soil. Variables, such as weather, soil content, surcharge loads, and earth tremors must be considered.
The best construction companies have experience and expertise to greatly reduce the likelihood of accidents with regard to excavation. Before hiring a company, ask what their track record is and how they have prevented injuries and fatalities in the past.
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