Trenching & Excavations

Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. Excavations (any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal) and trenches (narrow underground excavations that are deeper than they are wide) are common in plumbing repair, telecom routing, landscaping and irrigation, and building repair. UNC Charlotte’s Trenching & Excavation program ensures safe working environments through enforcement of OSHA 1926 excavation and trenching standards. While cave-ins pose the greatest risk, other potential hazards such as falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment are accounted for in the program.

What you need to know

  • Workers should never enter a trench that does not have a protective system in place.
  • OSHA requires that all excavations 5 feet deep or greater use one of the following protective systems.
  • Options include: Sloping the ground, benching the ground, shoring the trench with supports, or shielding the trench (using a trench box).
  • Planners must know where underground utilities are located.
  • OSHA standards require that trenches be inspected daily and as conditions change by a competent person.
  • Inspect trenches at the start of each shift.
  • Inspect trenches following a rainstorm.
  • OSHA requires safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps, or other safe means of exit for all employees working in trench excavation 4 feet or deeper. The travel distance for these devices is 25 feet.
  • Workers must not enter into or work in excavations with standing water or in which water is accumulating unless adequate protection is provided.


The Environmental Health and Safety Office offers the following services:

  • On site evaluation to monitor the use of safe work practices and procedures
  • Assisting with atmospheric testing and equipment selection
  • Providing or identifying appropriate training for competent persons and staff
  • Providing technical assistance during trenching operation