OSHA standards require that trenching and excavation sites are inspected daily and as conditions change by a competent person before worker entry in order to ensure elimination of excavation hazards. 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 workers; can identify soil types and design appropriate protective systems; and is authorized to take corrective measures to eliminate hazards and dangerous conditions.

The role of the competent person for excavation demands high accountability because workers on trenching and excavation construction sites can be injured or killed in the blink of an eye. The competent person must have extensive training and broad expertise not only in all aspects of excavations but also in all relevant OSHA regulations, including confined space, utility location, personal protective equipment, hazardous atmosphere testing, rigging and design, as well as applicable state and local laws. If the competent person for excavation is provided the proper training and tools, they can not only eliminate major hazards but also proactively anticipate and reduce the likelihood of potential risks.

The competent person for excavation must be aware of and focused on many key aspects of the trenching and excavation site, including:

  • Clear and open communication with all personnel responsible for the excavation operations;
  • Determination of the appropriate protective systems based on the conditions at the excavation site, including trench depth and width, soil conditions, etc.;
  • Monitoring of all employees entering the excavation to ensure proper training in hazards and recognition, work practices, protective measures and emergency response;
  • Ongoing inspections of the excavation and adjacent areas;
  • Atmosphere testing for potential oxygen deficiency or build-up of hazardous gases;
  • Classifying soil and rock deposits, by visual analysis and testing, to determine appropriate protection; re-classifying, if necessary, based on changing conditions;
  • Authorizing immediate removal of employees from hazardous areas where evidence of possible cave-in, failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres or other hazardous conditions exists, until proper safety precautions are taken.

The value of a knowledgeable, well trained and conscientious competent person for excavation cannot be underestimated. A qualified competent person can help ensure compliance with OSHA regulations and standards, and, more importantly, eliminate or significantly reduce the potential hazards and risks associated with trenching and excavation.

About the OSHA Training Center

The OSHA Training Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District offers high quality Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards-based training for construction, maritime and general industry at its Center in Dublin, California, as well as locations throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam. Programs offered include OSHA safety standards, Outreach Trainer courses, Cal/OSHA standards curriculum, environmental courses and customized on-site safety training. Upcoming courses include Excavation, Trenching and Soil Mechanics and Managing Excavation Hazards. For more information, including a complete course schedule, visit the OSHA Training Center website or call (866) 936-OSHA (6742).