Excavation Dos and Don’ts

Excavation Safety System

Home excavation projects can range in size from an entire basement to a foundation for a garage or addition, to a small utility trench. Another common excavation projects include creating drainage space around your home’s foundation to address a basement prone to flooding. Whatever the project, as a homeowner you should know what an excavation is, as well as a few excavation dos and don’ts for your project.

What is an Excavation?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines an excavation as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal.” Cave-ins pose the greatest risk to workers. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres and incidents involving mobile equipment.

Excavation Dos

When undertaking an excavation project, the following are things you should do in order to maintain your safety:

Consult with a civil engineer

This professional will create a Scope of Work to ensure that your project is completed as efficiently and safely as possible.

Call 811 before beginning any excavation project

Calling 811 or visiting www.call811.com provides the contact information for your local or government utility location service or dig line. This service is completely free to use. It will give you the locations of all underground gas, electric, water, sewer and communications pipes and cables in the area. By law you must call Dig Safe before beginning any excavation or digging project anywhere in the US.

Hire a licensed contractor with the expertise to perform the excavation.

Review the contractor’s website, check with the Better Business Bureau and contact the contractor’s references. This is one type of project you should never hire based on pricing. You want the contractor to know exactly what they are doing to prevent accidents.

Obtain all necessary permits

Every town is different. Understand the rules from your city or town’s building department. And as a homeowner, never pull the permit for the contractor. If an accident happens, you are excluded from the Massachusetts Guaranty Fund provisions of MGL c. 142A.

Check to make sure the contractor has the proper insurance

If your contractor doesn’t have the proper insurances, you can be liable for accidents that occur on your property. Excavation contractors must have written documentation of liability and workers’ compensation insurance for all workers on site.

Trench Excavation Safety System

Protect yourself and others at the excavation site

Protective systems are required for trenches five feet (1.5 meters) deep or greater unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. Trenches 20 feet (6.1 meters) deep or greater require that the protective system be designed by a registered professional engineer or be based on tabulated data prepared and/or approved by a registered professional engineer.

Ask your excavation contractor about safety measures and protective systems

A qualified excavation contractor have systems in place to prevent cave-ins and other hazards. These could include sloping, shoring or shielding.

According to OSHA:

  • Sloping involves cutting back the trench wall at an angle inclined away from the excavation.
  • Shoring requires installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports to prevent soil movement and cave-ins.
  • Shielding protects workers by using trench boxes or other types of supports to prevent soil cave-ins.

There are many factors that need to be considered when designing a protective system.  Things such as:

  • Soil classification
  • Depth of cut
  • Water content of soil
  • Changes due to weather or climate
  • Surcharge loads (eg., spoil, other materials) used in the trench
  • Other operations in the vicinity.

These factors contribute to the complexity of the project.

Have a qualified “competent person” inspect the excavation daily

Eliminate excavation hazards through daily inspections. OSHA defines a competent person as “an individual who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards or working conditions that are hazardous, unsanitary, or dangerous to employees and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or control these hazards and conditions.” Excavations and trenches should also be inspected after rainstorms.

Excavation Don’ts

The following are things you should never do when excavating:

Enter an unprotected trench!

Cave-ins can occur in a matter of seconds, causing serious or fatal injuries. According to OSHA, trench collapses cause dozens of fatalities and hundreds of injuries each year.

Place heavy equipment near the excavation edges

Most protective systems, such as sloping, shoring or shielding, are designed to support the weight of the soil, not the additional weight of heavy equipment. Place the excavation equipment as far away from the edge as possible and in the area least likely to collapse.

Place surcharge within 2 feet of the excavation edges

Surcharge is excess soil or other materials removed from the ground. Not only can excess soil and materials increase the likelihood of an excavation cave-in, but these materials can fall into the excavation as well.

Work under raised loads

As a matter of common sense, keep all personnel from working under raised loads which could fall and cause injury.

New England Enterprises has the equipment and the expertise for your excavation project, large or small. Contact New England Enterprises for an expert consultation.

2 thoughts on “Excavation Dos and Don’ts”

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  2. Thanks for helping me understand that there are safety measures that the contractors should follow such as sloping, shoring, and shielding. I will make sure that my best friend will be hiring a contractor who practices these techniques to ensure safety. They just need their services because there is a part of their property that has a lot of rocks. They wanted to transform it to a pool area soon.

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