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Murray State University

Trenching &
Shoring Safety
Susan Miller
Safety Training Coordinator

Soil is Heavy
A cube of soil measuring 1
ft. on a side weighs at
least 100 lb (more in many
cases). A cubic yard of soil
(3 ft. on a side) contains
27 of these, or 2,700 lbs.
This weighs about as
much as a mid-sized

On average, 50 workers are
killed at excavation sites yearly.
Cave-ins account for 76% of
Being struck by or crushed by
equipment, dropped loads,
equipment rollovers,
electrocutions, and other events
account for the remainder.

Excavation or Trench? Whats the difference?

Excavation any man cut, cavity, trench, etc.,
formed by earth removal. Excavations can
include a building basement, roadbed or trench.
Trench narrow underground excavation that is
deeper than it is wide and no wider than 15 feet.
All trenches are excavations, but not all
excavations are trenches. Trenches are usually
more dangerous.

Overview of OSHAs rule

29 CFR 1926.650-.652
Assign a competent person
Keep spoil piles and heavy equipment away
from the edge of trench
Use adequate protective systems
Train on hazard recognition and avoiding
unsafe conditions

Notifying the Authorities

Before starting work, OSHA requires:
Determine the approximate location of
underground utilities.
Contact the utility company to inform them of
proposed work and have them mark location
of lines.

Competent Person
One who can identify existing and predictable
hazards in the surroundings, or unsanitary,
hazardous, or dangerous working conditions,
and who has the authority to stop work until
they are fixed.

Does not have to be at the

excavation jobsite at all

How Deep is the Excavation?

Four-foot rule OSHA requires that workers
have a means to get in and out
of a trench if it is four or more
feet deep.
You must not have to travel
more than 25 feet to reach the
means of egress.

How Deep is the Excavation?

Five-foot rule OSHA requires protection from cave-ins by
protective systems unless the excavation is:
Entirely in stable rock, or
Less than five feet and the competent person
inspects the excavation and determines there is no
indication of a potential cave-in.

Testing & Classifying the Soil

If your jobsite trench is not in stable rock or is
five-feet or more deep, it must be protected
from a cave-in.
Testing and classifying soil is a critical
component to protecting employees from a
cave-in. The competent person is responsible
for testing and classifying the soil.
If there is ever a doubt about the soil type, it
must be treated as type C.

Stable Rock
Natural solid mineral matter that can be
excavated with vertical sides and remain intact
while exposed.
Usually identified as granite or sandstone.
Probably not going to be on MSU campus.

Type A Soil
TYPE A SOILS are cohesive soils with an unconfined
compressive strength of 1.5 tons per square foot (tsf)
or greater.
Examples of Type A cohesive soils are often: clay, silty
clay, sandy clay, clay loam and, in some cases, silty
clay loam and sandy clay loam.
No soil is Type A if it is fissured, is subject to vibration
of any type, has previously been disturbed, is part of a
sloped, layered system where the layers dip into the
excavation on a slope of 4 horizontal to 1 vertical
(4H:1V) or greater, or has seeping water.

Type B Soil
TYPE B SOILS are cohesive soils with an unconfined
compressive strength greater than 0.5 tsf but less than
1.5 tsf.
Examples of Type B soils are: angular gravel; silt; silt
loam; previously disturbed soils unless otherwise
classified as Type C; soils that meet the unconfined
compressive strength or cementation requirements of
Type A soils but are fissured or subject to vibration; dry
unstable rock; and layered systems sloping into the
trench at a slope less than 4H:1V (only if the material
would be classified as a Type B soil).

Type C Soil
TYPE C SOILS are cohesive soils with an unconfined
compressive strength of 0.5 tsf or less.
Type C soils include granular soils such as gravel,
sand and loamy sand, submerged soil, soil from which
water is freely seeping, and submerged rock that is not
Also included in this classification is material in a
sloped, layered system where the layers dip into the
excavation or have a slope of four horizontal to one
vertical (4H:1V) or greater.

Why bother classifying?

The most important reason for classifying soil
is that the results can be used to determine
what type of protective system can be used.
If it is decided that the soil will not be classified,
Excavations must have a slope of 1 horizontal to
1 vertical (34 degrees).
1 1/2

Whats Next?
Once the soil type at an excavation is
determined, the next task is to select what
protective system will be used.
Sloping or benching of the sides
Supporting the sides with shoring
Placing a trench shield between the sides

MSU is free to choose the most practical

design approach depending on the jobsite

Sloping & Benching

If the soil has been classified, there are more options
for sloping and benching.
Soil Type


Stable Rock


Slope Angle
(in degrees)
Vertical 90o

Type A



Type B



Type C



Type A Soil Slope :1

Type A Bench



Type B Soil Slope 1:1

Type B Bench



Type C Soil Slope 1:1

Type C Soil Sloping & Shielding

Shoring & Shielding

Shoring and shielding is used when the
location or depth of the cut makes sloping back
to the maximum allowable slope impractical.
Shoring provides a support system for trench
faces to prevent movement of soil,
underground utilities, roadways and

Shoring Systems
Shoring systems consist of posts, wales, struts
and sheeting.
Two basic types of shoring:
Aluminum hydraulic

Hydraulic Shoring
Hydraulic shoring is a prefabricated strut
and/or wale system made of aluminum or
Hydraulic shoring offers a critical advantage
over timber shoring because you do not have
to enter the trench to install or remove it. Most
systems are light enough to be installed by one

Example of Hydraulic Shoring

Trench boxes are different from shoring
because, instead of shoring the trench face,
they are intended primarily to protect workers
from cave-ins and similar incidents.
The excavated area between the
outside of the trench box and
the face of the trench should
be as small as possible.
Box should extend 18 inches
above surrounding area if
sloping toward excavation.

Example of Trench Box

Personal Protective Equipment

Hard hats are required for trench work as there
are always overhead hazards whether working
alongside the trench or in the trench.
Ventilation equipment may be required if there
is a possibility of an atmospheric hazard.

Installing & Removing Protective Structures

Connect support system members securely.
Avoid overloading system members.
Install other structural members to carry loads
imposed on the support system when you
need to remove an individual member.
Remove from the bottom up.
Backfill the excavation as soon as possible.

Getting In & Out of the Trench

Structural ramps
Earthen ramps

Jobsite Hazards

Vehicle exposure wear warning/reflective vest

Spoil pile 2 feet away minimum
Falling loads do not work under equipment
Water leave the trench during rainstorms, divert
surface water away from trench
Crossing over never a good idea

Hazardous Atmospheres

Oxygen levels <19.5% or >23.5%

Combustible gas >20% of LEL
High concentrations of hazardous substances
When testing for contaminants or oxygen levels Testing must be conducted before employees enter
trench and regularly to ensure safe atmosphere.
Frequency of testing should be increased if equipment
is operating in the trench.
Testing frequency should also be increased if welding,
cutting, or burning is done in the trench.

Emergency Rescues
Respirators may be required, you must be
trained and in the MSU respirator program.
Lifelines must be provided and attended to at all
times if you enter bell-bottom pier holes, deep
confined spaces or other similar hazards.
If you enter a confined space, you must be
trained to recognize and deal with the hazards.
Normally, trenches are not considered confined
spaces because they are well ventilated.


Daily and before the start of work

As work conditions change
After every rainstorm
When fissures, cracks, undercutting, water
seepage, bulging at bottom, etc. occur
When there is a change in the size, location or
placement of the spoil pile
When there is any indication of change or
movement in adjacent structures

Whats wrong with this trench?

Whats wrong with this trench?

No means of egress
Spoil pile too close to edge
Shoring not complete
Missing backfill
No edge stabilization
No hard hats
No air monitoring

Cave-ins account for most fatalities
Four-foot rule must have means of egress
within 25 feet of all workers in trench
Five-foot rule protection from cave-ins must be
provided by using shoring, sloping or trench box
Soil classifications Solid rock, A, B, C