Excavation Safety

Excavation, though greatly improved in speed, efficiency, and safety by the technological advances of the modern age we live in, is still dirty, dangerous work. There are, however, some precautions you can take to ensure a safer working environment - some of them will surely surprise you.

Few people realize just how dangerous an open trench can be. After all, it's just a ditch, right? Wrong! Open trenches are what pass for the backbone of an excavation project, which means they're everywhere. As with most things, the more common something is, the less attention is paid to it. That's bad news for the safety-conscious, who see attention to detail as the force that makes it possible for everyone to get home safe at the end of the day. Pipe fitters are especially affected by open trenches and what happens (or doesn't happen) inside of them, because they are directly responsible for the installation of such things as plumbing, gas lines, telephone, cable, and other fiber-optics, and similar infrastructural elements which are housed within such trenches.

Because they need to dig up the earth in order to install underground piping for future use, an improperly or carelessly formed trench be disastrous - cave-ins do happen, and when they do, people can die. The enforcement of any number of safety precautions may seem like a needless bother, but you won't think that if the time ever comes when that "expletive expletive hard-hat" saves your life.

One of the most fundamental things you can do to promote excavation safety is to make sure the walls of your trench or other site have the proper slope. While this might seem ridiculous, imagine this: You are lying down on your stomach, installing a fiber-optic line. Suddenly, there's a cave-in! The slope of your trench was too severe, and one side collapsed. In an instant, you're covered in several pounds of dirt and rock, trapped face-down in a ditch that you could've sworn wasn't more than 4 feet deep. Annoying, right? Well, it would be, except you're dead. As it turns out, it doesn't take much force to make it impossible to breathe, especially when your mouth and nose are clogged with dirt...

Something else you can do to promote excavation safety is make a quick phone call to a company called Dig Alert. You call them, explain what you're up to, and in turn, they notify the utility companies. The utility companies turn off power and water in the vicinity, and presto - no danger of electric shock, flooding, or gas leaks / explosions.

Additionally, make sure there is a clear path available for vehicles to drive around the open trench. That makes it easier for people to navigate the work site, as well as making it easier for emergency personnel to deploy, should the need arise. On a related note, you should take steps to ensure that the vehicle path doesn't come too close to the excavation site, because the weight of the vehicle could cause a cave-in or other accident.

Another excavation safety mainstay is the continuous presence of two workers at the excavation site. Sure, it's more expensive, but when something bad happens (accidents ALWAYS happen), the 2nd worker can call for help. Speaking of accidents, if you want to avoid them, go heavy on the barricades, caution tape, and other "STAY OUT OF THIS GIANT HOLE!" type warning signs. Pedestrians and motorists have a way of going where they shouldn't - make sure they don't have the chance to mount the "I didn't know!" defense.

Finally, always having a designated tool spot is highly recommended. While not specifically designed to promote excavation safety, it'll save time and frustration.

As you can see, the steps necessary to ensure excavation safety aren't necessarily expensive, hard to enact, or time-consuming. Often, the opposite is true - take the time. You'll be glad you did.

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