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10 Tips to Keeping Your Workers Safe When Working With Trenches

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If your company needs to work with any kind of excavation or trenches, you know how important it is to have the right safety precautions in place. Not only is this important for keeping your project on schedule but there are a host of rules and regulations that the government has set down that you need to follow. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has written up these rules because of how dangerous it sees working with any excavation can be. They see it as one of the more dangerous aspects of work for utility companies or in construction. From using the right OSHA trench boxes to following some common sense rules, you can keep everyone at your worksite safe.

Here are 10 tips to a safe experience with excavations and trenches:

  1. Do not let anyone go into a trench that is not protected with an OSHA trench box or trench shield. The possibility of a collapse is just too great to allow access to a trench. If you have to go to a trench box rental, that will be better than letting someone work in an unsafe environment.
  2. Never let your heavy equipment be stored or parked near the edge of a trench. Even the best OSHA trench boxes are no match for a runaway piece of equipment.
  3. You need at least 24 inches of space between your trench and any soil or materials. You may need to relocate it for the duration of the project if you cannot get it to be at least 24 inches away.
  4. All trenches need to be checked before and after a shift begins. This should also be done after a storm. There are specific OSHA guidelines that refer to who should be the person to look these areas over and what they should look for. This person needs to be familiar with the safety regulations and what to look for in terms of hazards to the workers.
  5. Before you dig, learn where the utilities are. The last thing you need when you are digging a trench is to hit a gas line, plumbing pipes or power.
  6. Train everyone on your staff on safety rules and procedures. You need to train all new workers on the safety rules for trenches but also you need to keep your veteran employees up to speed. It never hurts to give refresher courses on safety periodically. You can also make the safety manuals available so that people can refer to them. Encourage them to learn as much as they can. It is important that everyone understand that safety on the job is everyone’s responsibility.
  7. Provide the right safety gear to your workers. If a project will have them working in traffic, they need to have the right clothing. Again, OSHA has regulations for this and you need to be diligent about following them.
  8. Make sure there is both a safe way in and out of all trenches. If the trench is going to be at a depth that is four feet or more, you need to make sure that you have the right steps, ramps or ladders to let your workers get safely in and out of the trench. In addition, your workers cannot be more than 25 feet away from the exits of the trench. Any ladder that is used must be three feet taller than the trench itself.
  9. Watch the conditions inside the trenches. This is especially important when the trench reaches a depth of four feet. At this point, you have to start looking at the atmospheric conditions. This includes the oxygen level, presence of any toxic gases or other dangerous fumes. This is not to say you should have a canary but if you find any issues, you cannot let anyone work in that area until you have resolved the issue.
  10. Do not have anything suspended over your trenches. Even when you are using the best OSHA trench boxes, having items hang over the trench is just like asking for problems on your worksite.

As dangerous as it can be to use trenches, it is often a necessary part of getting a project done. An OSHA trench box shield and a good safety plan can keep your workers safe.

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