Where is the Typical Point of Failure in an Excavation?

Matt at Centex Excavation
Author: MattPublished: January 27, 2022 Updated: July 8, 2023 • Filed Under: Excavating and Grading

When excavating a hole, trench or any other construction project, there is always the potential to go wrong. We will discuss excavation projects can fail for a number of reasons. Learn about the where is the typical point of failure in an excavation and how to prevent it. By understanding where the risks are, you can take steps to ensure that your excavation project goes smoothly!

Excavation risks

There are a few critical risks involved in any excavation project. The significant dangers include either collapse or structural damage.

  • Collapse. The hole might collapse on top of you, burying you alive. This is the number one risk in excavation and can be deadly. The trench can cave in from soil failure or a lack of protective systems.
  • Structural damage. If the hole is too deep or if the soil is unstable, it can cause structural damage to the surrounding area. This could include your house, the foundation of a building, or any other infrastructure nearby.

There are all sorts of risks when it comes to unstable soil or excavation walls not being sturdy enough.  It’s critical to use a protective system and personal protective equipment to protect workers from the hazards of excavation operations.

Typical point of failure.

So, where is the typical point of failure in an excavation? The answer depends on the type of excavation. We generally see three different types of failures on construction sites.  These

Trench. The trench is the most common type of excavation and the most dangerous. The specific point of failure is right at the edge of the channel, where it meets the soil. This is where the walls are weakest and can easily collapse. Typically we see soil sliding or soil failure from adjoining soil when trenches fail.

Shallow excavation. The point of failure is usually at the bottom of the hole where it meets the soil. This is because there is less weight bearing down on the sides of the hole, making it more likely to collapse.

Deep excavation. The point of failure for a deep excavation is typically in the middle of the hole. This is because the weight of the soil is greater as you go deeper, making it more likely to collapse.

By understanding where the risks are, you can take steps to ensure that your excavation project goes smoothly.

How to minimize failures and collapses.

There are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of failure and collapse in an excavation:

  • Use shoring systems or bracing to support the sides of the trench. Sometimes we call these trench shields or trench boxes. A protective system is essential when digging more than a couple feet.
  • Make sure the soil is stable before beginning the excavation. Soil failure is the number one cause of trench collapses. You should also know the soil types before digging.
  • Have someone standing by to help if there is a collapse. We always recommend having a buddy system whenever you’re digging earth – especially in undisturbed soil.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and any potential hazards. We’ve seen bulldozers and trackhoes slide in at the edge of the excavation from the downward pressure created from their tracks.
  • Follow all safety regulations. These regulations can be from the equipment’s manual, OSHA, or even local regulations. They’re in place for a reason and can prevent an excavation collapse.

By taking these precautions, you can help ensure your excavation project’s safety.

Be safe when doing any excavation work.

We have discussed where the typical point of failure occurs and how to prevent it. By understanding where the risks are, you can take steps to ensure that your excavation project goes smoothly.

Excavation is a risky business, but following these tips will help minimize the chances of something going wrong, keeping you and your team safer.

About the Author

Matt Avatar


Excavation Expert

Matt is a highly experienced heavy equipment operator with over two decades of experience in the construction industry. His expertise covers a wide range of machinery and project types, and he is known for his focus on safety, efficiency, and problem-solving. Matt's commitment to delivering high-quality work within deadlines and budgets has made him highly respected at Centex Excavation and the excavation industry.

Related Posts