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During construction there are many risks associated with excavating and shoring up excavations. Here we reveal five common – but easily avoidable – hazards, and share strategies to help you and your team work safely in this environment.


Common shoring and excavation hazards

1. Falls from height: Every year in Australia an average of 29 people die from work-related falls. Falls from height can be particularly treacherous on construction sites, given the depth of some trenches and excavations.

2. Confined spaces: When excavation sites are also considered to be confined spaces, they carry some additional risks. Hazardous atmospheres can develop when, for example, oxygen concentrations fall below safe levels; workers are exposed to airborne contaminants that can cause impairment, loss of consciousness or asphyxiation; or in the presence of flammable airborne contaminants that can trigger fires or explosions. Engulfment is another confined space excavation hazard, often caused by flash flooding or from soil collapse.

3. Falling objects: In 2018, 10% of all Australian workplace fatalities happened after being struck by falling objects. Great care must be taken not to dislodge surrounding soil and rocks, or to drop tools, equipment and other objects into the excavation site.

4. Groundwater: When groundwater is not managed effectively or left in place it can undermine the integrity of the excavation site; the shoring solution; and surrounding structures. Water also creates an increased risk of engulfment within confined spaces.

5. Utilities: During excavation accidental impact with underground and aboveground utilities (like water, gas and electricity infrastructure) can be deadly. 


Avoiding these and other hazards

Many excavation and shoring hazards are easily avoidable. Here are some pointers on working safely in these challenging environments.  

  • Manage as many risks and hazards as possible during planning and design – don’t wait until work starts on site. 
  • To prevent collapse during excavation, partner with a team of qualified temporary works engineers to ensure the design and installation of adequate shoring and dewatering solutions. 
  • On site supervision can improve safety outcomes and hazard identification. Coates Engineering Solutions provides qualified engineers and experienced installations personnel to oversee the installation of all temporary works. We can also provide installation of temporary works on site as a service, taking the risk away from customers and putting into the hands of highly experienced temporary works engineers, supervisors, and installers.
  • Regular site inspections save lives, so be sure to check the excavation site before starting work each day, and after any events that may affect site stability.
  • Utilise a free service for locating underground infrastructure in Australia by contacting Dial Before You Dig. Coates Hire partners nationally with DBYD to promote safe digging practices in construction.
  • Follow best practice guidance for working safely in confined spaces. This includes performing pre entry air quality checks and atmospheric monitoring while work is underway. Sufficient access must be also provided for entry and exit from confined excavation sites.
  • Temporary site fencing, wheel stoppers and physical exclusion zones can all be used around excavations to keep people out of harm’s way. 
  • A well planned temporary works activity should include safety equipment like handrail edge protection, access and egress systems, and rescue systems like rescue winches to allow fast and safe removal of personnel if injury occurs.
  • Although personal protection equipment (PPE) is considered a last line of defence, the use of some PPE (like high-visibility clothing; hard hats; safety footwear; hearing and eye protection; and personal respirators) can improve safety outcomes for those working in or near excavations.
  • To reduce the noise levels generated by excavation (and other) construction equipment, ensure equipment is serviced regularly. Working with a reputable equipment hire specialist like Coates Hire offers peace of mind, knowing that all hire equipment is maintained to a high standard. 


Reach out to discuss excavation safety and for all your temporary works and excavation needs. Or find your local branch.


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