Excavation Safety: Take Precautions When Digging At a Worksite

An excavation is an area where workers have removed earth. It can be a few feet to several meters. An excavation needs to be considered as a temporary structure. During an excavation, whether it is a trench or a well or any other type of digging, there is almost no way to assess how secure the surrounding walls are. Therefore it must be assumed that all walls have a high potential to collapse. The question is not ‘will it collapse' but rather ‘when will it collapse.' This risk becomes greater when there is heavy machinery at the surface, removed soil is piled near the edge, after heavy rain fall, or if there is water inside the trench.

Safety Precautions

  • As soil is collected will be placed at least 2 meters away from the edge.
  • Whenever possible all digging of trenches/wells should be at 45 degrees, all the way around. Similar to an ice cream cone shape.
  • If this is not possible supporting structures will be used for supporting the walls of wells or trenches. These structures are metal braces that have flat surfaces on each end and span from one wall to another wall directly opposite.
  • These braces should be placed no more than every 2 meters.
  • Heavy machinery should be as far away from the edge as feasibly possible when digging.
  • Workers should not be in a trench that has not been made secure or when a machine is digging or when a machine is close to the edge of the wall.


  • Approved safety glasses.
  • Hearing protection.
  • Work gloves.
  • Reflective vests.
  • Hard hats.
  • Steel toed/safety boots.
  • Breathing barriers if there are any dangerous fumes or dust in the area.

Check That

  • All workers have up to date Tetanus, and Hepatitis A and B vaccinations.
  • All workers are trained in First Aid.
  • There are adequate First aid supplies on hand.
  • There is a method for reporting accidents.
  • There is a dedicated land line phone for emergencies.
  • Local emergency respond units are aware of the type of work that is being done.

After Hours Safety

  • All work areas should be clearly marked, and barricated, so curious on lookers do not become victims to accidents. If barrication is not feasible, warning tape should be used all around the excavation.
  • Signs, with pictures, should be used to clearly warn non-workers of the danger in the area.

When Machines Are in Use:

  • Except for the trained and dedicated operator no one else should be standing on or sitting on any part of the machine, unless that particular machine is designed for such a use.
  • No one else, other than trained operators, should be operating any machine.
  • All workers should stand a minimum of 3 meters away from the radius of any moving parts.
  • Workers should not move in front, or behind, of any machine unless they have indicated to the driver and the driver has acknowledged their intentions.
  • When operating a machine the operator should be fully alert and free of any alcohol, drugs, or medication.

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