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Are you aware of your Excavation and Trenching Obligations?

Posted by Andy Perry on 22 November 2016

Many construction workers may be involved in some type of excavations and trenching work, which is a high risk construction activity.

In May 2015, Safe Work Australia released a Construction Industry Profile that highlights the highest number of deaths and in particular, it identifies Site Preparation Services' recorded the most deaths. These activities involved earthmoving work such as levelling of construction sites, excavation of foundations, trench digging or removal of overburden. 

A construction workplace will often be shared by various parties, such as civil engineers and contractors. Persons with overlapping duties should exchange information about the risks associated with the excavation work including any traffic and plant movements near the excavation area. They should work together in a cooperative and coordinated way so that all risks are eliminated or minimised.

Excavation work generally means work involving the removal of soil or rock from a site to form an open face, hole or cavity using tools, machinery or explosives. There are specific duties that apply in relation to the higher-risk excavations such as trenches, shafts and tunnels. In some cases, you may expose some underground essential services at a depth of only 300mm that may pose a risk to workers or assets. All efforts should be made to the appropriate authority in regard to the location of services prior to excavation, which can be obtained from 'Dial Before You Dig' or www.1100.com.au

The applicable Health and Safety Regulations in each State and Territory require persons to identify and manage the risks when a shaft or trench with an excavated depth of greater than 1.5 metres or where a person may fall into the excavation or trench.

Organisations or their representatives usually manage these risks through the implementation of a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) that must be prepared, understood and adhered to by the individuals prior to conducting the high-risk activity. A SWMS is similar to a job safety analysis (JSA), which has been widely used in the Victorian construction industry. Organisations or individuals may continue to use existing JSA formats providing they contain all the information required of an SWMS.

When developing a SWMS for an excavation or trenches there are several factors that should be considered, such as:

  • Underground essential services;
  • Nature of the ground where there is a possibility of flooding from any water source;
  • Shoring, Shielding and Battering options;
  • Possibility of flooding from any water source; and
  • Inappropriate placement of excavated materials, plant or other loads.

HAZCON has the resources and tools to assist organisations and individuals in a range of ways, such as:

  • Provide awareness training sessions to Managers, Supervisors and Workers to understand excavation and trenching obligations;
  • Conduct walk through inspections of the construction sites for organisations or Principal Contractors and provide a brief report with recommendations; and
  • Review Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) and assist companies with their development and implementation.

If you require any further information relating to excavations and trenching then please contact HAZCON on 1800 429 266 or hazcon@hazcon.com.au

Author: Andy Perry
Tags: Andy Perry

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