Safety Information for Water and Wastewater System Operators

OSHA Trenching and Excavation Requirements

By Bill Clark
Within the last year two construction workers were killed in an excavation cave-in. All preliminary reports indicate they were working in an excavation about 20 feet deep without any cave-in protection. Cave-ins can happen in seconds without warning. There is usually never any time to escape. Soil is an extremely heavy material. A cubic yard of soil (3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet), which contains 27 cubic feet of material, may weigh more than 2,700 pounds. That is nearly one and a half tons (the equivalent weight of a car) in a space less than the size of the average office desk. Furthermore, wet soil, rocky soil or rock is usually heavier. The human body cannot support such heavy loads without being severely injured. Let’s review OSHA regulations that cover Trenching and Excavation, 29 CFR, 1926.650, 651 and 652.  1. OSHA requirements state that if the trench is 5 feet or more in depth some type of cave-in protection is absolutely required. 2. A person designated as qualified and competent to recognize and evaluate hazards must be present. 3. If the excavation is 20 feet or more in depth a professional engineer is required to evaluate the soil and determine cave-in protection before anyone enters the excavation, 29 CFR 1926.652 (b)(c).

These rules are there to save your life. Think about your family the next time you’re thinking about jumping into a trench without cave-in protection even for a few minutes.