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How To Stay On Top Of OSHA Trench Safety Regulations.

The greatest danger associated with trenches is the risk of cave-ins. Workers die every year as a result of trench collapses, with many more injured. Falling is another major risk, be it equipment, materials, or the workers themselves. On a busy job site, it’s often not something you stop and think about, but those who disregard trench safety requirements do so at their own peril and can be held liable for serious penalties, especially for repeated violations. 

Thankfully, OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) trench safety guidelines and standards are around to keep us safe, along with other best practices. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll avoid getting in over your head. 

Have a protection plan 

When accidents occur in trenches, there is usually little to no reaction time. For workers to stay safe, trenches must be protected at the outset. There are a few ways to accomplish this, each dependent on the depth and design of the trench itself. And OSHA trench regulations requirements vary from trench to trench. For instance, a trench that is 5 feet or deeper and not conducted exclusively on stable rock must have a protective system in place. Trenches that are 20 feet or more require input from a registered professional engineer. 

Types of Excavation Protective Systems for Trench Safety

Below are some forms of protective systems for excavations: 

Sloping – This method produces trench walls at an angle. The incline creates a wider and safer trench that is more accessible.

Shoring – Sometimes, there isn’t enough space for sloped walls. This plan implements trench walls with supports and is useful for narrow trenches. The supports apply force to the surrounding soil to prevent collapse. The force can be generated using hydraulic or air pressure. 

Shielding – This solution is aimed mostly at protecting workers in trench boxes. Rather than applying pressure to the trench walls, the boxes act as a safeguard against trench collapses. 

In the end, the effectiveness of these plans rests upon your trench’s design and the soil contents. Depending on the nature of your project, it’s possible that multiple methods could be used. Consider these approaches during the engineering stages, and be sure to implement the correct one before workers step into your trench. 

Competence is confidence

Even the best protection plan can fail if executed or maintained poorly. That comes down to management. Trenches can change rapidly, especially with exposure to the elements, so it’s crucial for them to be inspected daily and monitored as changes occur. OSHA standards mandate that this process be performed by a “competent person.” This person should know the soil composition, the necessary steps to control it, and how to detect and alleviate hazardous conditions. This person needs to complete the inspection before workers enter the trench. 

Always have an exit strategy

Don’t get caught between a rock and a hard place. Before you step into a trench, you need to have a plan for how to get out. OSHA requires that all trenches 4 feet or deeper be equipped with a safe way to enter and exit, such as a ramp or ladder. Whatever option you choose, it has to be available for workers at all times, and there must be exit options available within 25 feet of all workers. 

Call in the experts

If you need shoring equipment to stay OSHA-compliant, get in touch with us. Sunbelt Rentals has an entire specialty business dedicated to providing customers with answers to trench safety questions. Our Shoring Solutions team is laser-focused on equipping work crews with trench boxes, supports, and any other solutions they need to perform excavations safely. We have locations across the country, so consider us your adviser on any trench project needs. Click here to learn more.  


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