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Excavation Safety

Posted by Andy Perry on 9 December 2021

The Victorian County Court has reinforced, through a significant penalty, the importance of businesses operating in high-risk environments to ensure engineering controls are implemented when required. Last month a civil construction organisation was fined $550,000 following the tragic death of two workers in 2018 in a collapsed trench. DPP v Pipecon Pty Ltd (2021)

This is a timely reminder that employers must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment for their employees and contractors that is safe and without risks to health. Furthermore, a person who has management or control of a workplace has a duty to ensure that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health, so far as reasonably practicable. This duty only applies in relation to matters over which the person has management or control. Generally, these persons may be known as principal contractor.

Some of the methods to retain the controls may include:

  • Monitoring excavation activities and work practices;
  • Regular inspections of physical controls such as trench shields and shoring or stability of benching and batters;
  • Visual checks to ensure risk controls that rely on human behaviour are being properly applied by employees;
  • Testing of equipment and PPE;
  • Preventative maintenance of engineering controls and PPE, and
  • Any necessary remedial work to ensure physical controls continue to work effectively.

On some occasions, other personnel may need to enter the excavation/trench to undertake a specific task. Where this activity is conducted the person with management control must ensure the third party’s Safe Work Methods Statement (SWMS) includes, entering the excavation and is made safe prior to entry.

Where this detail is not outlined in the third parties SWMS, it will be the responsibility of the principal contractor and/or the person with management and control to provide information and training to these individuals that is comprehensible to those exposed to the critical risk. Moreover, these documents must include an emergency procedure to demonstrate compliance with the applicable safety regulation.

Further information can be obtained from:



Author:Andy Perry


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