HSQE manager Richard's video on keeping safe when working with excavations
Watch HSQE manager Richard’s video on keeping safe when working with excavations

Excavations can pose a risk to site workers, drivers and members of the public.

Don’t start work until you know everyone will stay safe.

Before carrying out any excavation

  1. Assess the ground conditions. Is it safe to work?
  2. Check you have the necessary shoring or propping materials. Work out how you will use them most effectively.
  3. Make sure the people working know what they need to do. Is everyone fully trained?
  4. Identify, mark and protect existing live underground services (electricity cables, gas, water and sewage pipes). Use service plans, records, electronic detection equipment and trial holes to locate the services. Make sure everyone involved has all this information before starting work.
  5. Then, before you start excavating, the supervisor must sign a permit to break ground.

Supporting the sides of the excavation

Keep support work secure and clear of additional loads, such as material or spoil, that might weaken it. Be aware of any plant that might operate within the excavation area.

operatives using cable detection equipment
Use a CAT and genny to check and mark-up cables before digging

Keep all materials, stockpiles and plant at least as far away from the edge of the excavation as the depth of the excavation.

Make sure you can get in to and out of the excavation safely, particularly if you need to leave it at speed. Use suitable ladders or a proprietary staircase system.

Provide barriers and notices to warn everyone of dangers, and to stop anyone who is not supposed to be there from entering the works.

Particular safety issues

plant excavation distance diagram
Keep plant and stockpiles as far away from the excavation as the distance from the top to the bottom of the excavation

Excavations in contaminated ground, or on chalky soil, bring their own challenges.

  • Rain water and chalk will produce carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air and will sit in an excavation.
  • Where there might be harmful gas leaks, teams must use air monitoring equipment and follow other confined space regulations requirements and advice before entering the excavation.
  • Think about where the exhaust fumes from diesel or petrol-driven plant (like generators and excavators) will go. Make sure they do not affect the people in the excavation.

A competent person must inspect the excavation and records at the start of the working shift and after any incident that might change the conditions of the excavation. For example, if plant drives too close to the edge, or heavy rain makes working conditions difficult.

Be Safe By Choice

safe access to excavation works
Ensure there is a safe way to enter and leave the excavation area

If it is not safe to work at any stage in the process, stop. Inform your supervisor or line manager. VGC will never discipline anyone for raising genuine safety concerns.

If you feel pressured to do anything you feel is unsafe, please text our Be Safe number 07876 448 119, email besafe@vgcgroup.co.uk or use our whistleblowing form to report it.