Construction trenching for buried utilities, pipelines, water transport, and other activities may be hazardous. Trenches are usually deeper than they are wide and the walls may become unstable and collapse on top of workers.

Trench cave-ins occur when dirt, sand, and rocks collapse into the trench. These materials can engulf, injure, or kill workers in the trench. Soil can be very dense and heavy. When it engulfs workers, it can break bones, immobilize and restrict breathing, or suffocate them outright.

First, get training in trenching and shoring procedures. If workers will be entering a trench five feet or deeper, you will need to get a permit from the Cal/OSHA. Call 811 at least two days before the excavation. They will contact utilities so that representatives can determine if there are buried pipes or utilities in the planned work area.

Classify the type and quality of the soils on the trenching site according to cohesiveness, grain size, and saturation. Type A is dense and heavy clay and is the most stable. Type B is silt, sandy loam, or medium clay. Type C is the least stable soil, made of gravel, loamy sand, and soft clay. If you are in doubt, treat the soil as if it is Type C.

Use sloping and/or benching techniques for trenches five feet or deeper and for all trenches with unstable soils. Trench walls can be angled or sloped downward and/or include flat benches or steps. Sloping and benching proportions should match the soil type. Type A soil requires three feet horizontal to four feet vertical (3/4:1). Type B requires four feet horizontal to four feet vertical (1:1). Type C requires six feet horizontal to four feet vertical (1-1/2:1). Benching cannot be used for Type C soil because it is too unstable.

Shoring uses a system of wall sheets, wales, and cross braces created by an engineer to hold up and stabilize the trench walls. Trench boxes can also be used to hold up walls. Trench boxes can be stacked for deep trenches, but they cannot be used to raise the height of the trench wall. No workers are allowed in the trench when shoring or trench boxes are being installed.

Workers injured or killed in trenches often had a false sense of security and made incorrect assumptions about the working conditions and safety, prior to the accident. Weather and heavy operating equipment can cause soils to destabilize. Trenches can have hazardous atmospheres or contain pipelines and electric lines, so take proper precautions. Trenches and the surrounding soils need to be inspected daily by a competent person to ensure that they are stable and safe. Assumptions can lead to accidents, so be prepared for safety on a trenching site.

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The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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