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Construction work can be a dangerous profession. A job site is a hectic place, as different workers perform many tasks at once. People work together and trust each other to get the job done safely and efficiently. Yet, the two most dangerous components of construction work take place early in the project — trenching and excavation.

These activities often go hand-in-hand. They pose great risks to the workers performing them and require extra care and regulations to keep everyone safe. If you want your workers to complete these dangerous tasks as safely as possible, you need to have a trenching and excavation specialist on your job site at all times.

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What Is a Trenching and Excavation Specialist?

If you’re looking to hire a trenching and excavation specialist — or if you want to become one — you must first understand the difference between the two tasks. While they may seem interchangeable at first, they are in fact unique job site activities. The following definitions from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) explain these separate but related operations:

  • Excavation: Excavation involves any manmade cut, cavity, trench or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal.
  • Trenching: Trenching involves creating a narrow excavation — no more than 15 feet wide — which is made below the surface of the ground and has a depth greater than its width.

Trenching and excavation specialists, often referred to as “competent persons,” deal with these tasks on the construction site. Excavation and trenching both demand extensive thought and planning to be successful. Continual implementation of safety precautions is necessary to perform these tasks. Thus, these competent persons ensure your crew follows these precautions to reduce accidents and emergencies. Here are a trenching and excavation specialist’s main duties:

  • Classifying soil.
  • Designing structural ramps.
  • Inspecting protective systems.
  • Monitoring water removal equipment.
  • Conducting site inspections.

These responsibilities are crucial to your crew’s safety as they excavate and work with trenches. Without an excavating and trenching specialist, many dangers can go unchecked. This can lead to serious injury.

Topics Covered in Trenching and Excavation Specialist Training

There are many dangers associated with these elements of construction, so every specialist needs to undergo excavation and trenching safety training to be successful. When people’s lives are at risk, you want to make sure you consider every precaution and follow every safety measure available to you. With the help of a trained trenching and excavation specialist, you can be confident you’ll meet every OSHA standard to keep your crew safe. Trenching and excavation specialist courses will prepare a specialist in the following areas:

  • OSHA standards for trenching and excavation.
  • Requirements for a competent person to be present during the most critical phases of work.
  • Proper hazard analysis of the job location.
  • Classification of soil types, including stable rock and type A, B and C.
  • Abatement of trench collapse.
  • Requirements for trenching and excavation inspections.
  • Shoring procedures using timber and aluminum.
  • Sloping and benching requirements and practices.
  • Trench fields.
  • Requirements for locating and protecting underground utilities.
  • Ways to handle water on excavation and trenching job sites.
  • Ways to identify and deal with a hazardous atmosphere in the trenches.

Proper training in these areas will help excavation and trenching specialists carry out these important roles on the job.

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What Are the Dangers of Trenching and Excavation Operations?

With so many safety precautions and regulations in place, it is no secret that excavation and trenching are two extremely dangerous tasks for a crew to perform. Excavation and trenching specialists exist to help prevent these dangers from happening. Here are some of the most common dangers associated with these tasks:

  1. Cave-ins: Cave-ins, also known as trench collapses, pose the greatest risk to workers’ lives. This occurs when the sides of a trench break loose, filling the trench with soil. Since 1 cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car, this can be disastrous for workers in the trench during the cave-in.
  2. Falls and falling loads: Without proper signage or barriers, workers can accidentally fall into trenches. Since trenches are several feet deep, these falls can seriously injure a worker. In addition to this, piles of dirt or construction materials placed too close to the trench can fall in, injuring or crushing trench workers.
  3. Hazardous atmospheres: Because trenches are so narrow and deep, air circulation is poor. This can cause lower oxygen levels in the trenches. Workers who exert energy under such circumstances could faint, increasing the risk of injury. Other harmful gasses can sink and accumulate at the bottom of the trench, posing more risks.
  4. Hazards from vehicles: Vehicles and heavy machinery are always in motion on the job site, often carrying large loads that obstruct the driver’s vision. Without signs, barriers or spotters, drivers can accidentally crash into a trench. This is a danger to the driver, vehicle and trench workers alike.
  5. Utility line breaches: Municipal fixtures, such as electrical lines and natural gas pipes, exist under the Earth’s surface. Excavation specialist courses and trench safety training dictate that you must know what’s underground before you start digging. Call 8-1-1 to have a professional check what’s beneath your feet. Otherwise, you risk electrocution and other harmful utility leaks.

Why Trenching and Excavation Training Is Important

Worker safety is of the utmost importance. In 2017, 23 construction workers died from excavation and trenching cave-ins alone. This statistic proves how crucial excavation and trenching safety training is. With excavation safety training and proper trenching precautions, you can help keep that number at zero for your job site. Every safety professional’s goal should be to take necessary safety steps from the beginning to avoid tragedy.

A fundamental component of construction work, besides safety, is productivity. Clients want their projects finished rapidly and successfully. If you are not compliant with OSHA’s regulations for these dangerous tasks, the organization can impose fines and shut your job site down. You and other competent persons must undergo OSHA trenching and excavation training to be ready for any worksite inspections. With the right training, you can invest in both safety and productivity.

Purchase Our Trenching and Excavation Specialist Course Today

Proper training is fundamental to job site safety. As a safety professional, your crew’s health and well-being is your top priority. The National Association of Safety Professionals (NASP) wants to help you take the next step to achieve this goal. Our online courses prepare advanced excavating specialists and trench workers to implement actions and safety precautions that keep work environments up to OSHA standards. Most importantly, our classes will help keep every member of your crew safer.

NASP offers you The Practical Approach to Workplace Safety. Take responsibility for your crew’s safety and keep productivity flowing by taking a training course. Contact us today if you’d like more information on what we can do for you, or purchase our Trenching and Excavation Specialist course to start now.

Purchase Our Trenching and Excavation Specialist

About the Author


Pete Nemmers

Pete Nemmers serves as NASP’s Director of Training Development, bringing a wealth of expertise to the organization. With a background rooted in safety and training, Pete plays a pivotal role in shaping the training programs offered by NASP. Pete ensures that NASP remains at the forefront of safety education, equipping professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate and excel in the dynamic field of safety.
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