Excavation hazards and control measures: How to reduce your excavation risks
What hazards do excavations carry?
Excavations are one of the most common activities to take place on construction and industrial sites. Some form of excavation is typical on every project to remove the old and prepare for new construction. The frequency of excavations makes them even more risky, which combined with the potential impact of an excavation accident make it one of the riskiest jobs in the business:
- Heavy machinery digging down into ground which contains piping and energy which is both essential to the functioning of our communities and lives, but also highly volatile and dangerous. And if that wasn't enough, the same machinery is also exposed to overhead wiring and utilities.
- Creating massive trenches and uneven ground which people and other machinery and equipment can fall into and over.
- The disruption of materials, confined work spaces and volatile working conditions create hazardous atmospheres which can lead to a lack of oxygen, poor visibility and poor air quality.
And this list isn't even close to being exhaustive.
What are some control measures you can put in place to limit and mitigate risk
There are a number of control measures you can put in place at your organisation or on your projects to mitigate the risk inherent in excavations - keeping your assets and everyone safe in the process.
Most of these control measures centre on prioritising preparation and preventative measures. Utilising plans and processes to ensure that all the right steps have been taken before the worst case scenario has any chance of happening.
Reducing risk through locating records and permitting
One of the most critical parts of any excavation process is service and utility locating. Utility services such as water and gas serve the most constant and ominous threat to companies and people working on excavations.
Dial before you dig programs are intended to protect the safety of people and the safety of our expensive and critical infrastructure. These programs enable companies and excavators to ensure that they have checked with local utilities and authorities that it is safe to dig in that exact location. Companies need to involve all stakeholders - or asset owners - in this process to ensure all bases are covered.
On top of this great resource, companies and projects can pull from locating records and involve utility providers to ensure that the work and excavations they are conducting are safe and clear of threat or damage.
As another central part of the excavation process, excavators must also complete and get approval in the form of an excavation permit to work.
This excavation permit to work serves as a powerful internal and compliance tool for companies engaging in excavations.
Use this excavation permit template for free.
What needs to be in your excavation permits and records?
The information you include in your excavation permit and approval process is very important to making sure your boxes are checked before work commences.
These permits serve as a vital compliance and audit tool which also protect you and the company in the case of an emergency or accident.
Your excavation process (and permit) should go through a number of stages or steps on its way to approval and eventually all the way to excavation.
- Get approval for a permitting period (dates and times)
- Define the scope of works
- Perform an in-depth risk assessment which focuses on ensuring that services have been located properly and all the necessary steps have been taken (authorities contacted, asset owners contacted etc.)
- Has an assessment been completed by a qualified engineer
- Is an approved safe work method statement (SWMS) in place
- Have all the relevant location sketches been attached for record keeping and reference
After the risk assessment has been completed and approved by the project manager or relevant person, work can commence and the safe excavation can take place.
The way to keep excavations safe, like most site activities, is to create a reliable and consistent process which abides by the law and includes a number of checks and balances.
Make preventative and control measures an every day part of your excavation process and you will be much less likely to strike that pipe or forget to protect your excavation sites from preventable hazards.