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OSHA - Shore it. Slope it. Shield it.

image Joann Natarajan, Compliance Assistance Specialist, OSHA, Austin, TX

SAN ANTONIO - Trenching and excavation work exposes workers to extremely dangerous hazards. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) data, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 130 fatalities recorded in trenching and excavation operations between 2011 and 2016. The private construction industry accounted for 80%, or 104, of those fatalities. An alarming 49% of those construction fatalities occurred between 2015 and 2016.


    As a result of the danger of unprotected excavations and trenches, OSHA has initiated an emphasis program to address this hazard and is directing OSHA inspectors to initiate inspections whenever they observe an open trench or an open excavation, regardless of whether or not a violation is readily observed. 

    OSHA generally requires that employers protect workers from cave-ins by:
■■ Sloping and benching the sides of the excavation;
■■ Supporting the sides of the excavation; or
■■ Placing a shield between the side of the excavation and the work area.

    One of the requirements for safe digging is periodic inspection of the excavation. Trenches and excavations must be inspected daily by a competent person.  Trench/excavation inspections shall be conducted by the competent person prior to the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. Inspections shall also be made after every rainstorm or other hazard increasing occurrence. A competent person is an individual, designated by the employer, who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to workers, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. Under the Excavation standards, tasks performed by the competent person include classifying soil, inspecting protective systems, designing structural ramps, monitoring water removal equipment, and conducting site inspections. 

    The Excavation standards require a competent person to classify soil and rock deposits as stable rock,
Type A, B or C soil. OSHA has a free training video on soil classification located at: https://www.osha.gov/dts/vtools/construction/soil_testing_fnl_eng_web.html
    OSHA also has a free video on excavation safety located at: https://www.osha.gov/dts/vtools/construction/soil_testing_fnl_eng_web.html

    Before starting work, the Excavation standards require employers to determine the approximate location(s) of utility installations including sewer, telephone, gas, electric, and water lines.  One common industry practice is to call 811, the “Call Before You Dig” number, to establish the location of any underground utility installations in the work area.  In Texas, the law requires 48 hour notice to utilities prior to digging. To learn more about notification prior to digging, visit:  https://www.texas811.org/

512-374-0271 x232

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