Trenching Safety

Trenching operations are common to many types of construction and maintenance projects and are inherently dangerous. Due to the great exposure, numerous accidents in connection with trenching occur every year. A few simple precautions, if observed, can serve to take most of the risk out of trench construction. Remember, never attempt to make a self rescue by entering a collapsed trench or excavation! There is a high risk that a secondary cave-in can happen!


  • Ensure that the competent person received specific training in, and is knowledgeable about, soil analysis, use of protective systems, and the requirements of 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P: Excavations and Trenches.
  • Ensure that the competent person has classified the soil using one manual and one visual test.
  • In soils other than solid rock, shale or cemented sand and gravel, the trench should be shored and/or braced, or terraced if over five feet in depth.
  • The trench should be shored and braced, regardless of length of time it will be open.
  • Ensure that excavations, adjacent areas and protective systems are inspected by a competent person before the start of work, as needed throughout the shift, and after rainstorms or other occurrences that could increase the hazard.
  • Place spoils, materials and equipment a minimum of two feet from the edge of the excavation.
  • Prohibit employees from walking or working under suspended loads.
  • Ensure that utilities companies are contacted and underground utilities are located as required by local, state and federal law.
  • Ensure that workers inside an excavation are within 25 feet of a means of access/egress.
  • Workers working in trenches should be separated to avoid being struck by fellow workers’ tools: 12-foot spacing is recommended.
  • Ensure that ladders used in excavations are secured and extend at least three feet above the edge of the excavation.
  • Ensure that employees are protected from cave-ins when entering or exiting from an excavation.
  • Ensure that precautions are taken to protect employees from water accumulation.
  • Ensure that the atmosphere inside the excavation is tested when there is reasonable possibility of an oxygen deficient, oxygen-enriched, combustible or toxic atmosphere or any other harmful contaminants.
  • Ensure employees are trained to use personal protective equipment and other rescue equipment.
  • Require workers to wear hard hats in trenches.
  • Ensure that materials and equipment used for protective systems are inspected and in good condition.

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