Dangerous Work: Why Trenching Is Best Left To The Pros

All trenches are excavations, but not all excavations are trenches. OSHA defines trenching as the removal of earth where the depth exceeds the width of the hole. Secondly, the width of the hole cannot be more than 15 feet. It's a job best left to trained excavating professionals as such digging can be dangerous.

The Power of Dirt: Therein Lies the Danger

Even the pros aren't immune from the dangers of building a trench. There were 97 construction deaths related to trenching between 2013 and 2017. Say that you need to repair your sewer pipe that leads from your home to the city sewer system. Even if you are trained in pipe repair, you must leave digging the trench that reveals the pipe to a professional excavator. The reason why is that the walls of the trench can collapse without warning, trapping workers.

Not only could you suffocate if you are caught in a trench collapse, you could be crushed. If you've ever tried pushing a common deep-barreled wheelbarrow, you know that dirt is heavy. Those carry around three cubic yards of dirt. A cubic yard is one yard deep, one yard wide, and one yard high. A yard is three feet, so visualize 3 by 3 by 3, which is 27 cubic feet. Now you can understand why you don't want to be working in a trench that collapses on you.

Even the Pros Must Follow These Safety Procedures

Digging a trench requires that you know what lies under the ground. Take the sewer pipe, for example. You just can't start digging; you have to find out if there are any buried utilities under the earth, and this could take a few days. Here are some of the safety precautions required before a trench can be dug.

  • Professional excavators always call 811 before digging anywhere. If there are buried utilities, the affected company will come to your location and flag where the utilities are buried with colored markers. This will give you the exact location and depth.
  • Next, the soil must be evaluated. You have to know what kind of soil you're dealing with so that your trench will be stable.
  • No one under the age of 18 can work within a trench.
  • The area around the trench must be able to support heavy equipment.
  • There must be an emergency action plan so that if there is a trench collapse, the workers can be helped promptly.

Most trenches do not collapse. Trained workers maintain high levels of safety in regard to building trenches. But the work can be dangerous, and it is best left to an excavation service.