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The purpose of an excavation and trenching safety program is to put work practices and procedures in place to protect employees from hazards that may be found in or around excavations or trenches. This program pertains to all company projects that require excavations or trenches and meets or exceeds the requirements of 29 CFR 1926.650 – Subpart P (Excavations).   

Assignment of Responsibility

It is each supervisor's responsibility to implement and maintain the procedures and steps set forth in the program. Each employee involved with excavation and trenching work is responsible to comply with all applicable safety procedures and requirements of this program.

The competent person for excavation and trenching at [COMPANY NAME] is: [NAME OF COMPETENT PERSON]. They are responsible and accountable for identifying existing and predictable hazards related to excavation and trenching operations conducted by [COMPANY NAME], which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to our employees, and have the authority to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. Supervisors are responsible and accountable for coordinating and fully cooperating with our competent person to ensure that employees remain safe while working in excavations and trenches.


Benching – A method of protecting employees from cave-ins by excavating the sides of an excavation to form one or more horizontal steps, usually with vertical or near-vertical surfaces.

Cave-in – The movement of soil or rock into an excavation, or the loss of soil from under a trench shield or support system, in amounts large enough to trap, bury, or injury and immobilize a person.

Competent Person – One who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions, which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them. 

Excavation – Any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in an earth surface formed by earth removal.

Failure – The movement or damage of a structural member or connection that makes it unable to support loads.

Shield – A structure used in an excavation to withstand cave-ins and which will protect employees working within the shield system. Shields can be permanent structures or portable units moved along as work progresses. Shields used in trenches are usually referred to as “trench boxes” or “trench shields.”

Shoring – A structure that is built or put in place to support the sides of any excavation to prevent cave-ins.

Sloping – Sloping the sides of the excavation away from the excavation to protect employees from cave-ins. The required slope will vary with soil type, weather, and surface or near surface loads that may affect the soil in the area of the trench.

Trench – A narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground and is 15 feet or less in width at the bottom of the trench excavation.

Program Elements

Program Participant Training and Duties

All personnel involved in trenching or excavation work shall be trained in the requirements of this program.

  • Training shall be performed by the competent person for excavations.
  • Training shall be performed before the employee is assigned duties in excavations.
  • Retraining will be performed whenever work site inspections conducted by the competent person indicate that an employee does not have the necessary knowledge or skills to safely work in or around excavations.
  • Training records will be maintained by [company name]. These records shall include the date(s) of the training program, the instructor(s) of the training program, and names of employee(s).

Worker Training and Duties

All personnel that perform work in excavations shall comply with the requirements of this program, including:

  • The work practices that must be followed during excavating or working in excavations
  • Personal protective equipment requirements
  • Procedures to be followed if a hazardous atmosphere exists or could reasonably be expected to develop during work in an excavation
  • Emergency and non-entry rescue methods, and procedure for calling rescue services

Supervisor Training and Duties 

Supervisors shall receive the training detailed above and shall:

  • Coordinate and actively participate in the training of employees.
  • Coordinate and cooperate fully with the competent person to:
    1. Ensure work site conditions are safe for employees to work in excavations
    2. Determine the means of protection (sloping back the sides of the excavation, use of trench shields, or shoring) that will be used for each excavation project; and
    3. Ensure, if required, that the design of a protective system has been completed and approved by a Registered Professional Engineer before work is begun in the excavation.

Contractor Awareness, Duties, and Responsibilities 

A contractor that is performing excavation work on-site shall coordinate trenching and excavation work with the supervisor to assure the coordination of the work and shutdown of utilities if necessary.

Specific Excavation Requirements

Utilities and Pre-Work Site Inspection 

Prior to excavation the site shall be thoroughly inspected by the competent person to determine if special safety measures must be taken.

  • All equipment, materials, supplies, permanent installations (for example, buildings or roadways), trees, brush, boulders and other objects at the surface that could present a hazard to employees working the excavation shall be removed or supported as necessary to protect employees.
  • The location of sewers, telephone, fuel, electric, water lines, or any other underground installations that may be encountered during excavation work shall be determined and marked prior to opening an excavation.
  • If it isn’t possible to establish the exact location of these installations, the work may proceed with caution if detection equipment or other safe and acceptable means are used to locate the utility.
  • Excavation shall be done in a manner that does not endanger the underground installations or the employees engaged in the work. Utilities left in place shall be protected by barricades, shoring, suspension or other means as necessary to protect employees.

Protection of the Public  

Barricades, walkways, lighting and warnings shall be provided as necessary for the protection of the public.

Guardrails, fences, or barricades shall be provided on excavations adjacent to walkways, driveways and other pedestrian or vehicle thoroughfares. Warning lights or other illumination shall be maintained as necessary for the safety of the public and employees from sunset to sunrise.

Wells, holes, pits, shafts and all similar hazardous excavations shall be effectively barricaded or covered and posted as necessary to prevent unauthorized access.  If covers are used, the covers shall cover the entire opening; be secured against horizontal displacement; marked with the words “hole” or “cover” in red letters; and comply with all other applicable OSHA requirements set forth in 29 CFR 1926.502(i) - Covers.  

Walkways or bridges protected by standard guardrail systems (top and mid-rail) shall be provided where employees and other contractors  are permitted to cross over excavations and shall comply with 29 CFR 1926.502 (Guardrail Systems). Toe boards or other suitable falling object protection will be provided for employees or other contractors passing under walkways and shall comply with 29 CFR 1926.502(j) – Protection from Falling Objects. 

Where the general public is permitted to cross over excavations using a bridge or walkway constructed by us, the bridge or walkway shall comply with applicable standards for walkways used by the general public including provisions for the (handicapped) impaired. 

Protection of Workers in Excavations

Access and Means of Egress:

Stairs, ladders or ramps shall be provided where employees are required to enter trench excavations over 4 feet deep. The maximum distance of lateral travel (e.g., along the length of the trench excavations) required to reach the means of egress shall not exceed 25 feet.

Structural Ramps:

Structural ramps used solely by employees as a means of access or egress from excavations shall be designed by a competent person. Structural ramps used for access or egress of equipment shall be designed by a person qualified in structural design, and shall be constructed in accordance with the design.

Ramps and runways constructed of two or more structural members shall have the structural members connected together to prevent movement or displacement.

Structural members used for ramps and runways shall be of uniform thickness.

Cleats or other appropriate means used to connect runway structural members shall be attached to the bottom of the runway or shall be attached in a manner to prevent tripping.

Structural ramps used in place of steps shall be provided with cleats or other surface treatments on the top surface to prevent slipping.


All ladders shall comply with all applicable OSHA requirements stipulated in 29 CFR 1926.1053 (Ladders).

When portable ladders are used, the ladder side rails shall extend a minimum of 3 feet above the upper surface of the excavation.

Ladders shall have nonconductive side rails if work will be performed near exposed energized equipment or systems.

Two or more ladders, or a double-cleated ladder, will be provided where 25 or more employees will be conducting work in an excavation where ladders serve as the primary means of egress, or where ladders serve two-way traffic.

Ladders will be inspected prior to use for signs of damage or defects. Damaged ladders will be removed from service and marked with "Do Not Use" until repaired.

Ladders shall be used only on stable and level surfaces unless secured. Ladders placed in any location where they can be displaced by workplace activities or traffic shall be secured, or barricades shall be used to keep these activities away from the ladder.

Non-self-supporting ladders shall be positioned so that the foot of the ladder is one-quarter of the working length away from the support.

Employees shall not be allowed to carry any object or load while on the ladder that could cause them to lose their balance and fall.

Stepladders shall not be used for access/egress in excavations including trench excavations. 

Exposure to Vehicular Traffic:

Employees exposed to vehicular traffic shall be provided with, and shall wear; warning vests or other suitable garments marked with or made of reflectorized or high-visibility material that meet ANSI 107 guidelines. Warning vests worn by flagmen shall be red or orange, and shall be of reflectorized material if worn during night work and shall meet ANSI 107 guidelines.

Employee Exposure to Falling Loads:

No employee shall be permitted underneath loads handled by lifting or digging equipment. Employees shall be required to stand away from any vehicle being loaded or unloaded to avoid being struck by any spillage or falling materials. Operators may remain in the cabs of vehicles being loaded or unloaded when the vehicles provide adequate protection for the operator during loading and unloading operations.

Warning System for Mobile Equipment:

A warning system shall be used when mobile equipment is operated adjacent to the edge of an excavation if the operator does not have a clear and direct view of the edge of the excavation. The warning system shall consist of barricades, hand or mechanical signals, or stop logs. If possible, the grade should be away from the excavation.

Hazardous Atmospheres:

The competent person will test the atmosphere in excavations over 4 feet deep if a hazardous atmosphere exists or could reasonably be expected to exist. A hazardous atmosphere could be expected, for example, in excavations in landfill areas, in excavations in areas where hazardous substances are stored nearby, or in excavations near or containing gas pipelines

Adequate precautions shall be taken to prevent employee exposure to atmospheres containing less than 19.5% oxygen and other hazardous atmospheres. These precautions include providing proper respiratory protection or forced ventilation of the workspace. Technical assistance on these precautions may be obtained by contacting the competent person.

Forced ventilation or other effective means shall be used to prevent employee exposure to an atmosphere containing a flammable gas in excess of 10% of the lower flammability limit of the gas.

When controls are used that are intended to reduce the level of atmospheric contaminants to acceptable levels, continuous air monitoring will be performed by the competent person. The device used for atmospheric monitoring shall be equipped with an audible and visual alarm.

Atmospheric testing will be performed using a properly calibrated direct reading gas monitor. Direct reading gas detector tubes or other acceptable means may also be used to test potentially toxic atmospheres.

Each atmospheric testing instrument shall be calibrated on a schedule and in the manner recommended by the manufacturer except:

  • Any atmospheric testing instrument that has not been used within 30 days shall be recalibrated by the department prior to use.
  • Each atmospheric testing instrument shall be calibrated at least every six months by the department.
  • Copies of calibration records will be forwarded to the competent person and management.
  • Each atmospheric testing instrument will be field checked immediately prior to use to ensure that it is operating properly.

Prevent exhaust of nearby vehicles, heavy equipment, and/or gas powered tools from being forced into or entrapped into trenches or excavations.

Personal Protective Equipment:

All employees working in trenches or excavations shall wear approved hard-hats and steel toed shoes or boots.

Employees exposed to flying fragments, dust, or other materials produced by drilling, sawing, sanding, grinding and similar operations shall wear approved safety glasses.

Employees exposed to hazards produced by, or performing, welding, cutting, or brazing operations shall wear, as determined by the competent person, approved safety glasses or a welding face shield or helmet.

Employees entering deep and confined footing excavations shall wear a harness with a lifeline securely attached to it. The lifeline shall be separate from any line used to handle materials and shall be individually attended at all times while the employee wearing the lifeline is in the excavation.

Employees shall wear, as determined by the competent person, approved gloves or other suitable hand protection.

Employees using, or working in the immediate vicinity of, hammer drills, masonry saws, jackhammers or similar high noise producing equipment shall wear suitable hearing protection.

Emergency rescue equipment, such as breathing apparatus, a safety harness and line, and a basket stretcher shall be readily available where hazardous atmospheric conditions exist or may develop during work in an excavation. This equipment shall be attended when in use. Only personnel that have received approved training and have appropriate equipment shall attempt retrieval that would require entry into a hazardous atmosphere. If entry into a known hazardous atmosphere must be performed, then the competent person shall be given advance notice so that the hazards can be evaluated and rescue personnel placed on standby if necessary.

Protection from Hazards Associated with Water Accumulation:

Employees shall not work in excavations that contain or are accumulating water unless precautions have been taken to protect employees against the hazards posed by water accumulation. The precautions taken could include, for example, special support or shield systems to protect from cave-ins, water removal to control the level of accumulating water, or use of safety harnesses and lifelines.

If water is controlled or prevented from accumulating by the use of water removal equipment, the water removal equipment and operation shall be monitored by a person trained in the use of the equipment.

If excavation work interrupts the natural drainage of surface water (such as streams), diversion ditches, dikes, or other suitable means shall be used to prevent surface water from entering the excavation. Precautions shall also be taken to provide adequate drainage of the area adjacent to the excavation. Excavations subject to runoff from heavy rains shall be re-inspected by the competent person to determine if precautions should be taken.

The competent person shall inform workers of the precautions or procedures that are to be followed if water accumulates or is accumulating in an excavation.

Stability of Adjacent Structures:

The competent person will determine if the excavation work could affect the stability of adjoining buildings, walls, sidewalks or other structures.

Support systems (such as shoring, bracing, or underpinning) shall be used to assure the stability of structures and the protection of employees where excavation operations could affect the stability of adjoining buildings, walls, or other structures.

Excavation below the level of the base or footing of any foundation or retaining wall that could be reasonably expected to pose a hazard to employees shall not be permitted except when: A support system, such as underpinning, is provided to ensure the safety of employees and the stability of the structure; or

The excavation is in stable rock; or

A registered professional engineer has approved the determination that the structure is sufficiently removed from the excavation so as to be unaffected by the excavation activity; or

A registered professional engineer has approved the determination that such excavation work will not pose a hazard to employees.

Sidewalks, pavements and appurtenant structure shall not be undermined unless a support system or other method of protection is provided to protect employees from the possible collapse of such structures.

Where review or approval of a support system by a registered professional engineer is required, the department shall secure this review and approval in writing before the work is begun. A copy of this approval shall be provided to the competent person.

Protection of Employees from Falling Objects and Loose Rocks or Soil:

Adequate protection shall be provided to protect employees from loose rock or soil that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling from an excavation face. Such protection shall consist of:

Scaling to remove loose material;

  • Installation of protective barricades, such as wire mesh or timber, at appropriate intervals on the face of the slope to stop and contain falling material;  
  • Benching sufficient to contain falling material; or
  • Removal of loose material a sufficient distance from the excavation that the material cannot roll or slide into the excavation.

Excavation personnel shall not be permitted to work above one another where the danger of falling rock or earth exists.

Employees shall be protected from excavated materials, equipment or other materials that could pose a hazard by falling or rolling into excavations.

Protection shall be provided by keeping such materials or equipment at least 2 feet from the edge of excavations, by the use of restraining devices that are sufficient to prevent materials or equipment from falling or rolling into excavations, or by a combination of both if necessary.

Materials and equipment may, as determined by the competent person, need to be stored further than 2 feet from the edge of the excavation if a hazardous loading condition is created on the face of the excavation.

Materials piled, grouped or stacked near the edge of an excavation must be stable and self-supporting.

Inspection by the Competent Person

The competent person for excavations shall conduct daily inspections of excavations, adjacent areas, and protective systems for evidence of a situation that could result in possible cave-ins, failure of protective systems, hazardous atmospheres, or other hazardous conditions. An inspection shall be conducted by the competent person prior to the start of work and as needed throughout the shift. Inspections shall also be made after every rainstorm or other hazard increasing occurrence. These inspections are only required when the trench will be or is occupied by employees.

Where the competent person finds evidence of a situation that could result in a possible cave-in, failure of protective systems, hazardous atmosphere, or other hazardous conditions, exposed employees shall be removed from the hazardous area until precautions have been taken to assure their safety.

The competent person shall maintain a written log of all inspections conducted. This log shall include the date, work site location, results of the inspection, and a summary of any action taken to correct existing hazards.

Protective System Requirements

Protection of Employees

Employees in an excavation shall be protected from cave-ins by using either an adequate sloping and benching system or an adequate support or protective system. The only exceptions are:

  • Excavations made entirely in stable rock; or
  • Excavations less than 4 feet in depth where examination of the ground by the competent person provides no indication of a potential cave-in.

Protective systems shall be capable of resisting all loads that could reasonably be expected to be applied to the system.

Protective systems in excavations greater than 20 feet in depth shall be designed by a Registered Professional Engineer. 

Sloping and Benching Systems Design

The slope and configuration of sloping and benching systems shall be selected and constructed by the competent person by either:

  • Sloping the excavation at an angle no steeper than one and one-half horizontal to one vertical in accordance with type C soil.
  • Finding the appropriate sloping and benching angles based on soil type by the use of a registered professional engineer who can determine the angle used.

Support Systems, Shield Systems, and Other Protective Systems

Use protective systems only as manufacture guidelines or compliance standards allow.

Materials and Equipment

Materials and equipment used for protective systems shall be free from damage or defects that might affect their proper function.

Manufactured materials and equipment used for protective systems shall be used and maintained in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer, and in a manner that will prevent employee exposure to hazards.

When materials or equipment used for protective systems are damaged, the competent person shall ensure that these systems are examined by a competent person to evaluate its suitability for continued use. If the competent person cannot assure the material or equipment is able to support the intended loads or is otherwise suitable for safe use, then such material or equipment shall be removed from service. These materials or equipment shall be evaluated and approved by a registered professional engineer before being returned to service.

Support Installation and Removal


Members of support systems shall be securely connected together to prevent sliding, falling, kickouts, or other potential hazards.

Support systems shall be installed and removed in a manner that protects employees from cave-ins, structural collapses, or from being struck by members of the support system.

Individual members of support systems shall not be subjected to loads exceeding those which those members were designed to support.

Before temporary removal of individual support members begins, additional precautions shall be taken as directed by the competent person to ensure the safety of employees. These precautions could include, for example, the installation other structural members to carry the loads imposed on the support system.

Removal of support systems shall begin at, and progress from, the bottom of the excavation. Members shall be released slowly. If there is any indication of possible failure of the remaining members of the structure or possible cave-in of the sides of the excavation the work shall be halted until it can be examined by the competent person.

Backfilling shall progress together with the removal of support systems from excavations.

Additional Requirements for Support Systems for Trench Excavations

Excavation of material to a level no greater than 2 feet below the bottom of the members of a support system is allowed, but only if the system is designed to resist the forces calculated for the full depth of the trench. There shall be no indications while the trench is open of a possible loss of soil from behind or below the bottom of the support system.

Installation of a support system shall be closely coordinated with the excavation of trenches.

Sloping and Benching Systems

Employees shall not be permitted to work above other employees on the faces of sloped or benched systems except when employees at the lower levels are protected from the hazard of falling, rolling, or sliding material or equipment.

Shield Systems


Shield systems shall not be subjected to loads that are greater than those they were designed to withstand.

Shields shall be installed in a manner that will restrict lateral or other hazardous movement of the shield that could occur during cave-in or unexpected soil movement.

Employees shall be protected from the hazard of cave-ins when entering or exiting the areas protected by shields.

Employees shall not be allowed in shields when shields are being installed, removed, or moved vertically.

Excavation of material to a level no greater than 2 feet below the bottom of the shield system is allowed, but only if the system is designed to resist the forces calculated for the full depth of the trench. There shall be no indications while the trench is open of a possible loss of soil from behind or below the bottom of the shield system.

The shield shall extend at least 18 inches above the top of the trench excavation. 

Fall Protection In compliance with 29 CFR 1926.501(b)(7)(i) and where the competent person determines that fall protection is necessary to protect our employees or other contractors working near excavations from falling into the excavation, the competent person will determine the type of fall protection system necessary to effectively protect our employees and other contractors from falls.  The fall protection system selected by the competent person shall meet or exceed the OSHA requirements in 29 CFR 1926.502 – Fall Protection Systems Criteria & Practices.