Imagine you are doing an emergency trench cut to fix a broken water line in the middle of the winter and you destroy an electrical line. This in turn cuts off the heat to a city block or two. Image the cost of all those frozen pipes if you can’t get the electricity back online.
Whenever excavating, trenching or even planting a tree, you should evaluate for underground utilities. Items to be aware of include: gas lines, utility lines, water lines, sewer lines, abandon lines and tree roots. Gas or electrical lines are the most dangerous to come in contact with and can cause the most damage.
Another example that is more unlikely yet still hazardous is excavating around trees. It might sound funny, but tree roots should be evaluated closely. When undermining a tree, it can become unstable and fall onto workers, pedestrians or vehicles below. Bottom line, pay attention to hazards and mark them prior to opening the earth.
The first step you should take prior to digging any type of hole is mark out underground utilities. Each state varies, but in New England, DigSafe is the company that will usually mark out underground hazards. Check out how DigSafe works. In New York State, check out Dig Safely. Utility marking is the law and the service is free, so memorize their phone number- 811!
Additional considerations to remember when excavating:
- How deep is the trench? Will I need to install a trench box or follow sloping requirements? Typically, at or below 5 feet will trigger such requirements.
- How long will the trench be left open? If it is overnight, how will you protect it from the public? Can it be barricaded? What about a large metal plate to cover the hole? All trenches should to be backfilled, plated or enclosed with a chain link fence unless they are constantly attended by an authorized employee. In Massachusetts, this is required by legislation known as ”Jackie’s Law” in response to a tragic accident in 1999. The Mass. Department of Labor and Workforce offers a Model Trenching/Excavation Policy, which is helpful to everyone, but you should check every state specific regulation where you dig.
- Develop a traffic plan to ensure cars pass through the construction zone safety. Follow MUTCD requirements to install warning signs.
- What about hazardous atmospheres? Are there employees entering a confined space? If so, is the air being monitored and fresh air being pumped in?
- Daily inspections are often required. Who is responsible? Is it being completed?
Developing a plan prior to excavation is critical to help ensure that all steps will be completed in a safe manner. Following an appropriate plan will reduce the chances of insurance claims and protect the safety of employees and the public.
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Acadia Insurance is pleased to share this material with its customers. Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services. This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness. Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.