Alleviate the Dangers of Digging

Revisiting the fundamentals of a safe excavation site can protect your crew.

Alleviate the Dangers of Digging

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Safety and quality are two of the most inseparable components to success on a job site. You can’t have one without the other.

And without a solid foundation of safe practices, you’ll suffer from more than a deficit of quality. Safety isn’t just a quota — it’s the thing that keeps workers safe, happy and productive.

You should have a profound understanding of the tenets of excellent safety. It should be a pillar of your utility’s identity. Most of all, you should know that there are always ways to improve upon what you already have. But without the fundamentals, you’ll struggle to maintain consistent quality and high productivity.

OSHA’S perspective

OSHA has already done the hard work to collect, organize and explain the various components to keeping a safe excavation site. For free on its website, OSHA even has a Trenching and Excavation Safety manual for anyone to download. In this manual, OSHA goes over the fundamentals of excavation and trench safety, such as understanding the various classifications of soil:

Stable Rock — Natural solid mineral matter that can be excavated with vertical sides and remain intact while exposed.

Type A — Cohesive soils with an unconfined compressive strength of 1.5 tons per square foot (tsf) (144 kPa) or greater. Examples include clay, silty clay, sandy clay and clay loam. Certain conditions preclude soil from being classified as Type A. For example, no soil is Type A if it is fissured or has been previously disturbed.

Type B — Includes cohesive soil with an unconfined compressive strength greater than 0.5 tsf (48 kPa) but less than 1.5 tsf (144 kPa) and granular cohesionless soils (such as angular gravel, similar to crushed rock, silt, silt loam, sandy loam and, in some cases, silty clay loam and sandy clay loam).

Type C — Cohesive soil with an unconfined compressive strength of 0.5 tsf (48 kPa) or less, granular soils (including gravel, sand and loamy sand), submerged soil or soil from which water is freely seeping, submerged rock that is not stable, or material in a sloped, layered system where the layers dip into the excavation or with a slope of four horizontal to one vertical (4H:1V) or steeper.

Site safety checklist

For any excavation job, it’s best to create a safety checklist to be completed by a “competent person.”

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 that are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to workers, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

The types of tasks that a competent person should be performing on a job site include:

  Classifying soil

  Inspecting protective systems

  Designing structural ramps

  Monitoring water removal equipment

  Conducting site inspections

It’s best to create a custom checklist based on your specific requirements and even tailor individual checklists to your various job sites.

Use proper PPE

PPE, or personal protective equipment, is a term used for any protective equipment worn by a person for hazard protection. Equipment can include helmets, goggles, clothing, gloves and anything else that is worn to keep you safe at your prospective site.

OSHA outlines the “general PPE” required for most excavation, but the more protected your crew is, the safer and more productive you’ll be. OSHA’s trenching and excavation worksheet outlines the following PPE:

  Hard hat for overhead impact or electrical hazards

  Eye protection with side shields

  Gloves chosen for expected job hazards (e.g., heavy-duty leather work gloves for handling debris with sharp edges and/or chemical protective gloves appropriate for chemicals potentially contacted)

  ANSI-approved protective footwear

  Respiratory protection as necessary — N, R or P95 filtering facepieces may be used for nuisance dusts (e.g., dried mud, dirt and silt) and mold (except mold remediation); filters with a charcoal layer may be used for odors

Two popular sources for hardy, cost-effective PPE are ULINE and Grainger. 

Safe tools

Not every power tool is created equal. There are easy ways to increase your safety by being more mindful of the tools your crew uses.

For example, one easy way to reduce air compressor noise and the various other hazards that come with a compressor is to switch to a more portable gas-powered jackhammer. They’re more efficient than the standard pneumatic variety of jackhammer and produce less noise, dust and vibration. With less equipment needed and less to haul to and from a site, making use of power tools with more portability will have a positive effect on the overall site safety.

Multifaceted approach

The idea of “safety” is largely intangible. It’s a multifaceted effort that should constantly evolve on both the micro and macro levels.

As your utility evolves, so too should its understanding of safety. Day-to-day safety on a job site should accommodate the changing landscape, the different weather and the stage of construction. If you follow these basic tenets, you’ll be well on your way to a safer job site. 


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