United States: Denver Partner Outlines OSHA's Trenching And Excavation Safety Guidelines

Excavations and trenches have become so commonplace on work sites that some employers and employees have developed a sense of complacency with some of the most basic requirements of excavation safety. To counter this, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiated a National Emphasis Program on Trenching and Excavation on Oct. 1, 2018, to increase OSHA's education and enforcement efforts regarding trenching and excavation operations. Under this NEP, OSHA compliance officers can inspect trenching operations whenever they observe an open trench or excavation, regardless of whether there is a violation.

OSHA's excavation standard1 contains the requirements for excavation and trenching operations. The standard applies to all open excavations, including trenches. An excavation is any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth's surface formed by earth removal, and a trench is a narrow excavation made below the surface of the ground.

Trenching and excavation work continues to be hazardous. With an increased risk of deaths and serious injuries resulting from trenching and excavation incidents, a review of OSHA's trenching and excavation requirements can be useful.

OSHA Believes There is a Potential for Collapse in Virtually All Excavations

While cave-ins pose the greatest risk in any trenching or excavation operation, there are other hazards associated with these projects, including falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and hazards from mobile equipment, and are the focus of OSHA's excavation standard. Under the standard, there are several tasks that must be performed by a competent person, such as classifying soil, inspecting protective systems, designing structural ramps, monitoring water removal equipment, and conducting site inspections. OSHA's standards define a competent person as an individual designated by the employer who can identify existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to workers and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

OSHA Has Requirements to Prevent Cave-ins

OSHA's excavation standard contains several requirements regarding sloping and benching the sides of an excavation, supporting the sides of the excavation, or placing a shield between the side of the excavation and the work area to prevent cave-ins. Sloping the sides of the excavation to an angle not steeper than one-and-a-half by one means for every foot of depth, the trench must slope back one-and-a-half feet. Designing a protective system requires consideration of many factors, including soil classification, depth of cut, water content of soil, weather and climate, and other operations in the area; it typically involves using a trench box or shield approved by a registered professional engineer.

The standard also requires support systems for structures adjacent to an excavation, such as buildings, walls, sidewalks, and pavements, so they remain stable. Any protective systems used must be maintained free from damage and safety defects.

However, the excavation standard does not require a protective system when an excavation is made entirely in stable rock or when an excavation is less than 5 feet deep and a competent person has examined the ground and found no indication of potential cave-in.

Protect Workers from Loose Material Rolling Into an Excavation

The excavation standard also requires protecting employees working within an excavation or trench. Employers must prevent employees from working on the slopes of the excavations above workers within the excavation. Employers also must prohibit employees in the trench from working under suspended loads and must keep materials and equipment at least 2 feet from the edge of the excavation.

Prevent Water from Accumulating in an Excavation

Water can undermine the sides of an excavation and contribute to or cause a trench collapse. OSHA's excavation standard requires the use of a pump to remove water or control water accumulations. In addition, a competent person must monitor any water removal equipment. Drainage from the excavation must be maintained, and employers can use diversion ditches or dikes to prevent surface water from entering the excavation. A competent person should inspect excavations after heavy rains.

Test Hazardous Atmospheres Inside Excavations

Atmospheric testing is required in excavations deeper than 4 feet where oxygen deficiencies or hazardous atmospheres are present or could reasonably be expected. The excavation standards require employers to prevent employee exposure by using proper ventilation and respiratory protection. If there are hazardous atmospheres present in an excavation, emergency rescue equipment, breathing apparatus, and a safety harness and line must be used. In some instances, there could be a confined space or permit-required confined spaces in an excavation.

Follow Access and Egress Standards

OSHA's excavation standard requires ladders, steps, ramps, or other safe means of egress for workers working in a trench deeper than 4 feet, and they must be located 25 feet or less from workers in the excavation. Any access or egress must be designed by a competent person.

Conduct Site Inspections

The excavation standard requires competent persons to examine excavations, adjacent areas, and protective systems. These examinations should be conducted daily and prior to starting work and as work is performed, if conditions change.


OSHA's excavation and trenching standard can be found on its website, as can a number of memorandums and notices regarding excavation and trenching safety.


1. 29 CFR Part 1926, Subpart P Posted on Jun 18, 2019

Originally published by Occupational Health & Safety.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions