Trenching & Excavation Safety

Trenching & Excavation Safety

This page covers the following topics:

  • Overview
  • Cave-In Prevention Measures
  • Support System Installation & Removal Safety
  • Providing Protective System Materials & Equipment
  • Protection from Fall Hazards
  • Additional Information


According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. Hazards involving falling loads, mobile equipment, and cave-ins can result in worker injury and even fatalities.

To protect workers from these hazards, OSHA requires employers to use protective systems and provide protection from cave-ins by requiring employers to:

  • Slope and bench the sides of the excavation;
  • Support the sides of the excavation; or
  • Place a shield between the side of the excavation and the work area.

Various methods and approaches can be used by an employer to provide this required protection.

Examples of protective systems include:

  • Sloping the sides of the excavation to an angle not steeper than 1½:1 (for every foot of depth, the trench must be excavated back 1½ feet). A slope of this gradation is safe for any type of soil.
  • Designing a sloping and benching system in accord with tabulated data, such as tables and charts, approved by a registered professional engineer. This data must be in writing and must include enough explanatory information (including the criteria for selecting a system and the limits on the use of the data) for the user to be able to select an appropriate protective system.
  • Using a trench box or shield approved by a registered professional engineer or designed in accord with tabulated data approved by a registered professional engineer.

OSHA also requires that employers take additional precautions to ensure that:

  • Workers are protected from cave-ins.
  • Workers are able to safely install and remove protective systems.
  • Workers are given proper materials and equipment for protective systems.
  • Exposure to hazards involving falling loads and mobile equipment are minimized.

Cave-In Prevention Measures

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