Managing the health and safety risks associated with excavation work

Excavation is among the most hazardous construction operations. Therefore, to protect your workers from injuries, measures should be implemented to minimise the risks around excavations.


Planning the work
Planning involves identifying the hazards, assessing the risks, and deciding suitable controls in consultation with everyone involved in the work. Remember to consider the unique characteristics of the site. This should include the principal contractor, excavation contractor, structural engineers, mobile plant operators, employees undertaking the work, and Health and Safety Representatives


Controlling excavation risks
Common risks to be considered when planning excavation works are:

  • Securing the work area
    Ensure excavations are suitably fenced at all times with barriers strong enough not to collapse if someone leans or falls against them. Where possible, cover excavations if not working in or near them, or backfill immediately once work is completed.
    *Members of the public need to be prevented from entering the excavation site when it is unattended. Trenches should be covered to prevent unauthorized entry.


  • Falling from height
    Working at height involves if a person could fall from one level to another.


  • Ground Collapse
    Ground collapse is one of the main risks of excavation work. You can prevent collapse by use of trench shields, positive ground support (shoring), benching or battering back. Do not assume the ground will stand unsupported. Ground collapse prevention methods need to be designed in accordance with appropriate engineering principles and published Australian Standards. 


It is important that materials are not placed or stacked near the edge of the excavation or inside the ‘zone of influence’ unless the ground conditions allow for it or a ground support system has been installed which has been designed to carry such loads


  • Safe access and egress
    Provide safe access and egress for all workers at all times. Ensure you keep the floor of the excavation clear of anything that would obstruct workers’ safely exiting  in an emergency


  • Overhead and underground services
    Dial before you dig, and make yourself aware of the unseen services below and above that could be a risk to your works. 


  • Ground & surface water
    Workers should not work in excavations where water has collected or is collecting unless the necessary controls are in place.


Emergency procedures
An employer must establish emergency procedures before construction work is undertaken if there is a risk of a person becoming engulfed by soil or other material when the work is performed


Notification of construction excavation work
Unless certain exemptions apply (i.e. a mine, a bore, a quarry, for the purpose of undertaking emergency work, made for the rescue of any person, made for the use as a place of burial), WorkSafe Victoria must be notified in writing at least three days before work starts on an excavation that will be of sufficient dimensions or depth to allow the entry of a person, or if there will be a risk to the health or safety of any person from the excavation. You can notify WorkSafe Victoria here.


For more information on work that needs to be notified to WorkSafe, including notifiable events and incidents, click here.


Keeping you and your workmates safe at work is a priority, so make sure you are aware of your requirements of managing the risks of excavation.

The Site Review and SWMS features on the HazardCo App have a list of risk controls that should be in place to minimise the risk associated with excavation work.

If you need a hand getting started or would like more information, get in touch with the friendly HazardCo team today – we’re always happy to help.

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