Why Workers Should Not Work in an Unprotected Trench

Matt at Centex Excavation
Author: MattPublished: March 28, 2022 Updated: January 5, 2024 • Filed Under: Excavating and Grading

Key Takeaways

  1. Cave-In Risks: Trench collapses are a major hazard, with an average of two workers killed each month. To prevent cave-ins, it’s crucial to have a professional engineer or certified professional assess the soil and implement appropriate sloping, shielding, and support systems.
  2. Falls and Falling Loads: Workers and equipment are at risk of falling into trenches, and loads such as excavated soil or equipment can also fall into trenches and cause injuries. Safety measures like barriers, signage, and keeping equipment at least 2 feet from the trench edge are recommended.
  3. Atmospheric Hazards and Mobile Equipment Accidents: Trenches can have dangerous low oxygen levels or be contaminated with harmful gases. Testing for atmospheric hazards is essential, especially in trenches over four feet deep. Additionally, accidents involving construction vehicles are common, necessitating the use of spotters and flaggers to guide mobile equipment and prevent trench accidents.

A trench’s collapse happens when the excavation wall cannot withstand the force of the tons of soil pressing on the walls. It is crucial to use the correct tools and safety procedures while working and excavating the trench.

People working in and near ditches and excavations need to be aware of the chance of a cave-in in a trench.

In most cases, a cave-in can occur if there are no safety precautions, and the workers must take note of the kind of protection they require to be protected when working in trenches or excavations.

The most important rule is that workers should not work in an unprotected trench.

Top Hazards of Working in Unprotected Trench


Trench collapses kill on average two workers each month, which is a severe risk to worker security. To prevent failures, OSHA requires a professional engineer or certified professional to study the soil’s composition, then devise and install a system that

  • Slopes
  • Shields
  • Supports

Employing a certified engineer or a certified professional to develop an effective system to prevent cave-ins is crucial to avoid injuries and fatalities on the Jobsite.

Since moisture and other weather conditions can alter soil’s stability, OSHA advises excavations to be examined at the start of every shift, following rain or following other extreme weather conditions.

Falls And the Falling Load

Workers and equipment may get caught in an excavation. Put up an obstacle and safety sign around the excavation area to identify the risk of falling.

Falling loads, such as excavated dirt or equipment from the jobsite, may also fall into a narrow zone and crush anyone who works below.

This is why OSHA recommends that jobsite equipment be kept at least 2 feet from the excavation. Furthermore, OSHA recommends that employers don’t permit work to be carried out under elevated or suspended loads.

Dangerous Conditions

The areas that are drained of oxygen concentrations can be an issue of safety and must be considered when working at excavation sites.

The air in trenching areas may also be contaminated with harmful gases and chemicals. This is why OSHA requires testing for atmospheric contamination conducted by a certified professional when excavations exceed four feet.

If there are any atmospheric hazards, the workers must wear respiratory protection equipment based on the risk within the excavated zone.

Mobile Equipment

Accidents involving construction vehicles like dump trucks and backhoe loaders are frequent trenching locations. Mobile equipment operators may be unable to see clearly and thus cannot see when they’re nearing the edges of the trench.

OSHA recommends that a spotter or flagger direct the mobile equipment operator and keep the vehicle from falling into the channel.

When materials are being loaded or removed from the construction vehicle, workers should be asked to stay back to avoid being struck by debris that flies off.

Workers Should Not Work in an Unprotected Trench

Final Thoughts on Safety

It’s easy to see why workers should not work in an unprotected trench. Hazards are lurking everywhere. And, without ample protection, workers risk serious injury or death.

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.

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