A trench shielding system supporting walls.

Comparing Trench Shielding: Which Shield Is Best for Your Project?

Trench safety is non-negotiable in construction, as trench collapses can pose severe risks and even become fatal in some cases. Trench shields act as protective cages that prevent cave-ins and ensure worker safety. Apart from protecting workers, trench shielding cuts excavation time and costs by eliminating the need for wall sloping.

Common options include aluminum, steel, and modular trench shields available in two-, three-, and four-sided shields, each suitable for specific project needs. This guide compares the different trench shielding options to help you confidently choose what’s best for your project and protect your workforce.






Types of Trench Shields



1. Trench Boxes


Trench boxes, or trench shields, are prefabricated structures made of an aluminum or steel plate that forms a protective enclosure within excavation areas. These boxes support trench walls, preventing collapse hazards for workers engaged in excavation activities.




  • Enhanced Safety: Protects workers from cave-ins and hazards during excavation.
  • Swift Installation: Lightweight design ensures quick and uncomplicated setup.
  • Efficient Timelines: Quick and easy installation speeds up shoring and removal processes.
  • Extended Trench Lifespan: Improves stability, reducing the need for frequent repairs.
  • Compatibility: Works seamlessly with various safety equipment, including sloping and benching.
  • Versatility: This protective system is adaptable to different trench depths and soil conditions.




  • Cumbersome Handling: Trench boxes may be challenging to handle and may require extra equipment like a crane for installation or movement.
  • Limited Applicability: Not suitable for all situations, particularly in narrow trenches or where underground utilities and obstacles are present.


2. Hydraulic Shoring Systems


Hydraulic shoring systems use lightweight aluminum or steel pistons to press against trench walls, preventing collapses. These systems include hydraulic struts and walls that provide strong support for trench protection. Hydraulic shoring systems are easy to install and do a great job ensuring worker safety during construction and excavation.




  • Customizable Design: Tailored to fit various trench configurations.
  • Efficient Installation: Can be installed externally, reducing shoring setup time.
  • Flexible Application: Suitable for diverse excavation situations, including tight spaces and areas with crossing utilities.
  • Uniform Stability: Shoring equipment ensures even pressure distribution, maintaining trench wall stability and trench safety.




  • Specialized Expertise: Requires expertise for proper installation and maintenance.
  • Depth and Soil Limitations: Not ideal for very deep trenches or those with unstable soil conditions.


3. Pneumatic Shoring Systems


Pneumatic shoring systems support trench walls by using compressed air to inflate bladders, creating pressure against the walls. Unlike hydraulic shoring, which relies on hydraulic pressure, pneumatic systems use air pressure. These systems include pneumatic struts that prevent cave-ins when pressurized, ensuring a secure working environment for workers during excavation and trenching.




  • Effortless Installation: Lightweight and easily installed for operational efficiency.
  • Confined Space Versatility: Well-suited for narrow trenches, providing crucial support in confined areas.
  • Adaptable to Challenging Conditions: Functions effectively in trenches with water or unstable soil.




  • Continuous Air Supply: Requires a constant air supply, with an on-site air compressor for reliable functioning.
  • Limited Support: May not offer the same level of support as hydraulic shoring in certain situations.
  • Not for Very Deep Trenches: Limited effectiveness in extremely deep trenches.






Factors to Consider When Choosing a Trench Shield


When choosing a trench shield, it’s important to consider several factors to ensure worker safety and project efficiency. These factors include:


1. Depth of the Trench


Consider how deep your trench needs to be when selecting the appropriate trench shield. Trench boxes work well for shallower ones, up to 12 feet. Hydraulic shoring systems are super flexible and fit just about any depth. Pneumatic shoring systems are a better choice for moderately deeper trenches, around 20 feet.


2. Soil Conditions


Factor in the type of soil on the site when selecting trench shields. A trench box is versatile and handles different soils, even softer or unstable ones. On the other hand, hydraulic shoring systems are designed for use in stable soils, ensuring reliable support in conditions where soil integrity is less likely to pose a risk. Pneumatic shoring systems excel in challenging soil conditions, including waterlogged or unstable soils, providing a secure shoring solution.


3. Width of the Trench


For a shielding system with versatile solutions for different excavation scenarios, trench boxes are a great choice. That said, hydraulic shoring should be on your radar if you’re looking for trench shielding systems that take customization a step further. They can be easily customized to fit trenches of any width.


In contrast, pneumatic shoring systems, while suitable for general trench widths, may have limitations in very narrow trenches.


4. Presence of Obstructions


The presence of obstructions in the excavation area is another important factor to consider. Trench boxes may face limitations in trenches with obstructions due to their design, which might hinder installation around obstacles.


Hydraulic shoring systems shine in versatility, allowing for installation around obstructions and providing a practical solution in complex excavation environments.


Trenches with large or irregularly shaped obstructions may pose challenges for pneumatic shoring systems, potentially limiting their applicability.


5. Cost


Finally, evaluate your budget to determine which trench shield suits your specific construction needs and financial considerations. If you’re looking for the most cost-effective option, trench boxes are your best bet, especially for shallow trenches. For projects with financial constraints, trench boxes are a better choice.


On the other hand, hydraulic shoring systems are generally more expensive than their trench box counterparts but might be worth it if your construction project involves shoring deep trenches. These trench shielding systems provide enhanced support where versatility is crucial.


Lastly, pneumatic shoring systems are typically the most expensive option, making them suitable for projects with sufficient budget allowances.


Wrapping Up


Choosing the right trench shield is crucial for project safety and efficiency, as it ensures a secure environment for excavation. For personalized guidance, consider consulting with trench safety experts like Sunbelt Rentals to determine the most suitable shielding solution tailored to your project’s unique requirements.



Get Support

Are you planning your next Trench and Excavation project?

Contact the Trench Safety rental experts at Sunbelt Rentals for all your Trench Safety training and equipment needs.

Trench Safety Resources

Dive deeper into Trench Safety with these related articles, blogs, and success stories.