Trenching Hazards: March’s Safety & Hygiene Corner

Question: I am hearing a lot about trench & excavation hazards recently.  Besides cave-ins, is there any other hazards I should be aware of?

Answer: Many construction workers are injured and killed in trench and excavation collapses each year.  Although collapsing is the major hazard with trenches and excavations, there are others that you should be aware of, as well.

  1. Trenches and excavations can be deficient of oxygen or could contain hazardous concentrations of gases like carbon monoxide. Stay out of the trench or excavation and report to your supervisor if either hazard is a possibility.
  2. Watch out for buried electrical cables that could cause injuries or electrocutions. Excavators are supposed to call local utilities before they dig, but its safest to assume that they haven’t.  If you see a cable, assume it is hot.  Get out immediately without coming into contact with it and report to your supervisor.
  3. Watch for water lines and avoid breaking them. Broken lines will cause trenches and excavations to cave in quickly.  If you see water inside a trench or excavation, get out immediately and contact your supervisor.
  4. Watch for buried gas lines and other buried hazards. They could cause injuries.  For example, a broken natural gas line could be ignited by a welding spark, torch, cigarette or other source.
  5. Be aware of falling and moving objects while working, especially when an equipment operator is lowering pipe, shoring materials or other objects into the trench or excavation. Keep well away from the process.
  6. Remember that changing weather conditions may affect the stability of the soil in a trench or excavation. When changes in weather occur, such as rain, snow, ice storms, heavy winds or extended periods of hot, dry, weather.  Stay out of the trench until it is inspected by someone with the knowledge and experience to know whether entering could be hazardous.
  7. Always maintain an accessible means of exiting the trench or excavation such as a ladder or ramp. There should be an accessible exit within 25 feet of every worker inside the trench or excavation.

Provided by the Ohio BWC safety consultants.