Excavation activities are classed as construction work and need to comply with the construction Regulations. In addition, if a trench, tunnel or shaft is deeper than 1.5m they are designated as “high risk” construction, and possibly a Confined Space, and require among other things a safe work method statement (SWMS).
Excavations Pose Serious Risks
Because the consequences of trench collapse or contact with underground services or asphyxiates (e.g. gas leaks) are so severe, it is clear that high operational standards are required for anybody involved with excavations.
Qualifications Required for Supervisors
We were asked recently if trenching supervisors need to have specific qualifications. There are no regulations prescribing qualifications for trenching supervisors, or approved courses, therefore companies have greater flexibility in how they satisfy their general duty of care e.g. ensuring trained and competent personnel for each task.
Permit to Work
We recommend all excavations be subject to a Permit to Work system. In this way appropriately skilled people can check the planned activities, associated risks, and precautions necessary.
Numerous TAFE colleges provide 2-day courses in trenching and shoring safety, and some specialist trainers also offer shorter 1-day courses.
Codes of Practice for Trenching & Excavations
Codes of Practice have been prepared on this topic by Safe Work Australia dated October 2013 and Victorian WorkCover Authority dated September 1988.
Note: The Victorian construction regulations also require notification to the safety regulator at least 3 days prior to any excavation of sufficient size for a person to enter or if it poses a risk.