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Excavations present hazards not only to the men working in them but to persons and
vehicles moving about at ground level.

In general, certain precautions are essential in excavation work. Accidents involving

trenches could be any of the following :

(a) Being buried alive by cave-ins.

(b) Persons and vehicles falling into unguarded trenches and holes.

(c) Striking and cutting electricity cables and hydrocarbon pipelines.

(d) Stagnating poisonous gases killing trench workers.

Each of these potential hazards are discussed below:

(a) Cave-ins

Usually, they are due to inadequate shoring, weak shoring or no shoring at all.

All excavations deeper than Four (4) feet shall be shored, benched or sloped so
that the ground is cut to a safe angle of repose.

Spoil must be placed Two (2) feet away from the edge of an excavation and must
be stored in stable heaps. Heavy equipment and supplies must be kept well
back from the edge to avoid the sides giving away or material falling in from the

(b) Persons and Vehicles falling into trenches

Whether trenches and holes are deep or shallow, they must be provided with
proper barriers to prevent people or vehicles falling into them.

Barriers must be solid enough to prevent a person from accidentally stumbling

and falling in. Ropes can only be considered adequate when they are far enough
away from the edge to act as a warning that an excavation is there.

Under some conditions, a watchman may be required.

Flashing warning lamps must be supplied at night to mark the limits of


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(c) Buried cables and pipelines

If power cables or hydrocarbon pipelines are cut or breached, serious accidents

can take place, which could even cause loss of lives.

Broken telephone lines disrupt communications.

Before trenching, care must be taken to locate and identify underground lines
which might be damaged during Excavation.

Whenever the presence of such a line is known or even suspected, mechanical

excavators shall not be used. Instead, digging shall be done by hand until the
lines are safely exposed.

N.B.: - Great care must taken when using Pick-Axes.

(d) Poisonous Gases Atmospheres

Trenches located within the area of a gas plant are in a position to become traps
for Heavier-than-air, Asphyxiating, Toxic, Poisonous or Flammable gases,
particularly when ventilation is poor. Such trenches, especially when they are
over Four (4) feet deep, are confined spaces which shall not be entered until all
necessary precautions for Safe Entry have been taken. An entry permit is
required to enter any trench Four(4) feet deep or more.

Accumulations of hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen and flammable vapors can be


Exhaust gases from internal combustion engines must be discharged well above
excavations. These gases contain carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide which
can be lethal in trenches.

Ladder access must be provided in excavations Four (4) feet deep or more. In
long trenches, Ladders shall be placed at a distance not more than Twenty-five
(25) feet a part.

SBG-PCM Safety Dept.

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John D`Cruz

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