There are numerous reasons why you might need to excavate earth. For example, vital utilities such as cables and pipes are buried to protect both property and the public. Utilities engineers must regularly excavate earth in public areas to reach this buried equipment.
As with work on roofs and raised areas, when these trenches have been dug, they inherently pose a risk, not only to the trained workers but potentially to the public also. When you or your workers are carrying out excavation work, for whatever reason, you should be aware of the risks, and always do whatever you can to tackle them.
Plan the Work
As with any potentially dangerous task, your first step should always be fully inspecting the site, creating a risk assessment, and thoroughly identifying all potential risks and the necessary mitigation. Excavation work should never be carried out without the use of official plans and a proper inspection to make note of other services which might lurk below the surface. You may be carrying out water pipe repairs only to inadvertently sever power cables, leaving hundreds or even thousands without power, and exposing yourself and others to live cables. According to the Health and Safety Executive, commercial clients must legally provide the following information to you:
- ground conditions
- underground structures or watercourses; and
- the location of existing services.
You should make use of this information during the planning and preparation stages of the excavation work. If the work is in a public area, any risk assessments should include the potential risk to passersby. Simply putting up signage and barriers is not usually enough. You should only begin excavations when you are absolutely certain the area is safe to work in, and all potential risks have been mitigated.
Provide Safe Access/Egress
Despite being lower than ground level, pits and trenches pose a potential fall risk and this work can be considered work at height. Work at height is inherently dangerous, and project managers and those in charge should take all practicable precautions to reduce potential risks to workers. The trenches should only be accessed by those fully trained to carry out work, equipped with all relevant equipment. The work area should be clearly demarcated and any fall risk should be minimised. When the pit is not in use, such as overnight, it must be properly covered and secured, otherwise it can pose a fall risk to the public, or those who might be visiting the site but are not trained to enter the trench. Our CoverSafe Trench system is a pit protection system designed to secure open trenches when not in use, acting as a fall arrest system should a fall occur. The robust, lightweight GRP trellis design makes it ideal for use on a variety of trench sizes, maximising safety without impacting work efficiency, and minimising the risk of potentially nasty falls. To allow workers to safely access and exit the pit itself, a compliant ladder should also be put in place, inspected regularly alongside the trench itself at the start of each shift.
This is one of the most important parts of excavation work, and for good reason. There is always a risk of collapse when it comes to working below ground level, and all care should be taken to prevent it. Thankfully, you can minimise this risk by following a few simple tips and guidelines:
- Before digging the trench, decide on which method of temporary support will be needed, and plan all precautions ahead of time. All equipment, including trench sheets, props, and baulks, should be on site before work begins.
- Batter the sides of the pit. This should be done at a safe angle to entirely minimise the risk of collapse. If the soil is granular, the angle should be less than the natural angle of the material being excavated, and if the soil is wet, a flatter slope will generally be needed.
- Be aware of other risks such as falling or dislodged material from above, undermining other structures, and the weight of plant and vehicles above.
- Ensure the excavation is inspected by a competent person before work each day, as well as after any event which has the potential to affect the integrity of the pit walls, such as heavy rainfall or the use of machinery above.
Safe Excavation Management
As with many tasks, excavating and working in pits can pose serious risks if not managed properly. However, with just a little bit of sense, a few adjustments, and the right equipment, this work can be carried out safely. For more information about how Oxford Safety Components can assist you with ensuring the safety of your workers during excavation work, call us on +44 01869 323282, or use our online contact form.