Trenching and excavation operations can pose a high risk to workers; however, when done safely, worker exposure to potential hazards during trenching and excavation can be greatly reduced. Employers must be diligent to guard against common trenching hazards, including collapses (cave-ins), falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres and incidents involving mobile equipment.
OSHA standards require that trenches be inspected daily and as conditions change by a competent person prior to worker entry to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. 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 OSHA’s Excavation standards, tasks performed by the competent person include:
- Classifying soil
- Inspecting protective systems
- Designing structural ramps
- Monitoring water removal equipment
- Conducting site inspections
See OSHA’s Trenching and Excavation Safety publication to learn more about OSHA’s Excavation standards and the duties of a competent person.