5 Things to Know About Commercial Demolition Trenching & Excavation Safety

Close up of an orange excavator as it moves toward a pile of concrete for recycling.Workplace safety is the number one priority for Oregon demolition contractors. That’s why extra safety precautions and regular safety training form the cornerstone of Elder Demolition’s culture

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) considers excavation and trenching to be two of the most dangerous operations that a demolition company can perform. They provide training and guidance on trenching and excavation safety, even requiring protective systems on trenches deeper than 5 feet of soil. 

These and other standards are important for protecting the lives of workers and ensuring an operation flows smoothly. In today’s article we will explore the most important things to know about trenching and excavation safety.

1. Excavation & Trenching are Different

OSHA has very specific definitions about what differentiates trenching from excavation. You can think of a trench as being a kind of excavation. A trench must be deeper than its width, which must be “no greater than 15 feet.” 

An excavation is defined as “any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the Earth’s surface formed by earth removal.” This means that excavation safety applies to any situation in which a cut is made into the ground, such as for a basement, pool, or installing underground utilities.

2. Collapses & Cave-Ins are Top Hazards

The primary danger for commercial demolition workers lies in being caught in a collapse or cave-in. The operations that are most at risk for these hazards are:

  • Repairing water, sewer, and utility lines
  • Road construction
  • Digging operations

The weight of soil directly impacts the potential for collapses and cave-ins. For example, OSHA states that  “a cubic yard of soil can weigh as much as a car.” 

3. Soil Classifications are Important

There are four soil classification categories that are often referred to in demolition.

There are four soil classification categories, as defined by OSHA. These include:

  • Stable rock: solid minerals and remains intact when exposed
  • Type A: clay, silty clay, sandy clay, and clay loam
  • Type B: silt, crushed rock, and gravel
  • Type C: cohesive soil, like gravel, sand, submerged soil, or soil from which water is freely seeping 

Excavation standards require a competent person to be on hand at the dig site to identify these soil types and other hazards. A “competent person” is defined as an individual who has been trained to identify hazards and environmental conditions.

This is an important step in worksite safety as some soils, such as sand, pose different hazards than more stable soils, such as clay. 

4. These Three Words Can Save Lives

Commercial and industrial demolition contractors can prevent collapses and cave-ins by ensuring trench walls are fortified. To protect workers in trenches, OSHA has outlined three safety measures:


By sloping or benching trench walls, shoring them with supports, or shielding walls with trench boxes, workers can stay safe.

5. Always Follow OSHA’s Safety Guidelines

OSHA creates standards that hekp create safe trenching and excavation operations.

OSHA has additional standards that help create a safe trenching or excavation operation.

Employers are required to conduct site inspections daily to look for “possible cave-ins, indications of failures in protected systems and equipment,” and other hazards. These inspections must be performed before work has begun and must continue throughout the shift. They are also required following a natural event, or any event that can increase the chance of a hazard, such as nearby blasting.

If any hazards are found, the Oregon demolition contractor must clear the workers from the site and implement safety precautions.

Contact Oregon’s Trusted Demolition Contractor

If you are looking for the best demolition company in Portland, Oregon, Elder Demolition is at your service. With a reputation for excellence in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, Elder Demolition offers a number of industrial demolition services in addition to our wide range of commercial demolition services. We look forward to helping you. Contact us today.

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