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The Deadliest Excavation Hazards to Make Workers' Aware

Excavation is one of the most dangerous work activities in the world, and it is also one of the most common on large construction sites.

However, It is important to be aware of the dangers associated with excavation, especially if you are planning to do some digging in your backyard or on your property. While it is obvious that you should be careful not to hit underground cables and pipes when digging, there are more hazards you need to know about when going forward with an excavation project. Check out this list of the deadliest excavation hazards below and make sure to steer clear of them in the future.

Lets highlight some of these hazards:


A sinkhole is created when water erodes underground limestone, creating a hole in the surface. If you are performing excavation work and are worried about potential sinkholes, ask for help from a professional (or someone with experience) and make sure to include it on your excavation safety checklist. In addition to checking ground conditions before digging, you should also make sure that holes larger than four feet wide are shored up by brackets or boards to prevent collapse during excavation.

Once a sinkhole is discovered, it is extremely important to get out of its way. If you are not in immediate danger from a sinkhole, get away from it immediately. Do not try to help anyone stuck in one; call for help instead


Rainwater is not your only concern. Groundwater can gush through when you least expect it, especially if there are several water mains nearby or you are digging beneath a major city’s road system. Sudden and intense groundwater flooding is known as cave-in, which occurs when unstable structures below collapse and force water upward, causing surrounding structures to collapse like dominos.

Water is not your only excavation hazard, of course. Keep an eye out for impurities in your groundwater, such as from decaying trees or animals. Make sure to secure all nearby water mains and power lines before you start digging. Always conduct a site inspection using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) or infrared thermal imaging technology to test for ground conditions beneath buildings and structures to ensure that there are no large cavities present or buried utilities.


When excavating in snowy areas, make sure you know what avalanche control methods are appropriate for your location and follow all avalanche control protocols. Failure to do so can lead to injury or death. Avalanches can happen anywhere, but certain mountainous areas of North America and Europe (such as Glacier National Park) are prone to avalanches, as well as some urban construction sites. Keep these potential hazards in mind if you plan on working in an area that is prone to snow slides.

Most deaths caused by avalanches are a result of suffocation as victims buried in snow cannot breathe. Other common causes of death include trauma, hypothermia, or asphyxiation. Most avalanche deaths happen within five minutes of impact, and most occur within 100 feet (30 meters) of a slope’s edge.

To help prevent accidents that can be fatal to both workers and bystanders alike, make sure you develop an evacuation plan for your work site before you begin excavation operations.


Every year, hundreds of people are killed and thousands more are injured in construction site explosions. This is why it’s critical to learn about excavation hazards and control measures. While there is no guarantee that following OSHA excavation standards will prevent an explosion at your job site, doing so will go a long way toward preventing such disasters.

Gases are a frequent cause of excavation accidents. That is why it is important to follow safety protocols regarding well placement, soil gas readings and gas monitor testing. An excavator can help ensure that you comply with all applicable excavation regulations and stay safe on site.

Ventilation accidents are another excavation hazard. This is especially common in jobs where there is a high level of activity or an influx of workers. Without proper precautions, these events can cause serious injury or death. This means it is important to have adequate ventilation and work site monitoring tools in place at all times.

Caving in Due to Unstable Ground

Do you know what to do if you are caught in an excavation cave-in? Cave-ins are deadly, and that is why it is important to have a plan. If you do not have one yet, get your crew together and take a look at our tips for preventing cave-ins. And when you do get stuck in an excavation accident, do not forget your emergency toolbox!

Cave-in refers to a situation in which soil or rock collapses. This collapse can occur suddenly, often trapping workers below ground.

When an excavation is not safe and secure, there is a good chance that you will fall in. If you know what to do if that happens, however, you may be able to survive. First, make sure your crew has their excavation safety toolbox with them at all times. That way, when a cave-in occurs, they can use it to dig themselves out of trouble

If you are caught in a cave-in, try to remain calm. Do not move around much; instead focus on breathing slowly so that you do not get dizzy or faint. Also, try to avoid screaming or shouting—this could lead other workers nearby to become trapped as well! Keep digging until someone gets help for you—but do not wait too long!

Falls and Falling Loads

A lot of excavation work involves lifting, handling and carrying heavy tools, machinery and other loads. There are a variety of ways that falling loads can cause injury to workers on excavation sites, with some studies putting it as high as 60% of serious injuries in heavy construction activities. These may occur when:

  1. A load is not correctly secured or loaded;
  2. There is not enough manpower for safe lifting operations;
  3. Safety standards are ignored by workers; or
  4. Proper signage does not exist.

For any excavator safety toolbox talk, make sure you discuss how to deal with these situations and then provide practical solutions for preventing them from happening.

Hitting Utility Lines

Before any excavation can begin, an excavation safety toolbox talk must take place. This is a simple dialogue between workers on site, which will remind them of excavation safety checklist points. One such point is to be aware of and avoid hitting utility lines. In fact, avoiding hitting underground utility lines should be one of your main excavation work hazards control measures. If you hit a line while digging you could cause serious injury or even death to those working on site and damage to your property or equipment.

Utilities companies will always send out a line locator to survey for utilities before you start digging, but if you hit a utility line without knowing it is there and damage it, you may be liable. Also if in a worst case scenario someone is electrocuted or severely injured as a result of damage to a utility line, your company could face serious legal repercussions

When you are operating on-site, you should take every precaution to avoid hitting utility lines, by either checking utility records or mapping out all known utilities and avoiding digging in those areas. Also, once your dig begins keep a close eye on any excavation work hazards control measures that could happen to help you avoid hitting any underground utility lines.

Excavation Regulation

Before starting any excavation, regardless of size, you need to get your area up to code. Many cities and towns require you obtain a permit for any digging project. Additionally, every state has its own set of regulations that needs to be followed when dealing with large projects. Often times workers in excavation sites are at risk of serious injury or death due to digging hazards like: loose rock, gas leaks, cave-ins and more.

These hazards are very real and can be prevented with some key safety precautions. Digging into unstable terrain puts workers in danger, which is why you need to adhere to a certain set of standards and regulations while performing excavation. Those standards were created by OSHA and other governing bodies to ensure your safety when digging.

Before you start digging, make sure your area is up to code. Get permits and adhere to local excavation regulations. These instructions will help you understand proper safety precautions for excavation so you can keep yourself and others on site safe from harm. Digging should be a fun activity – not a dangerous one!

OSHA Excavation Standards

Contractors are required to follow OSHA’s excavation standards and OSHA defines certain practices as being recognized hazards. They include: Slope Failure/Slip-and-Fall/Rock Slide; Loose Rock; Bored Holes – Heavy Equipment; Excavation (other than trenches) and Trenching, Backfilling and Soil Nailing Operations. All of these recognized hazards can lead to fatalities so it is important for everyone involved in an excavation project to be aware of them.

OSHA lists a number of tools in its toolbox to help prevent excavation accidents, including Safety and Health Program Management; Training; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); and Respiratory Protection. Safe work practices are also critical to preventing hazards.

It is important for everyone involved in an excavation project to be aware of these safety measures and know how to use them properly. If you have questions about what types of equipment or PPE you need for your specific project, consult with a professional who can guide you through proper selection based on your needs. In addition, it is important that you understand how each piece of equipment works so that you can operate it safely as well as identify any potential hazards associated with it before using it on site.

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