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Trenching & Excavation Checklist For Builders And Building Trades Contractors

Version 2, October 2005

1. Have all underground services been located?

Before digging starts, make sure you know the exact location of any underground electrical cables, gas lines, water, sewerage and telecommunications cables. Do not rely solely on site plans and drawings as these are sometimes not accurate or complete. Seek assistance from the local services and distribution companies.

2. Is earthmoving plant being used safely?

Check that plant operators are appropriately qualified. Look for qualifications endorsed with LL (for front-end loaders), LB (for front-end loader/backhoes), LS (for skid-steer loaders), LE (for excavators), LD (for draglines) or LZ (for dozers). Old-style pre-national certificates can also be used. Make the operators show you their qualifications and keep an on-site register. Make sure all earthmoving plant is properly maintained and fully serviceable. Check that operators are not undermining existing buildings or temporary structures such as scaffolds and falsework. Make sure spoil is being kept at least a half metre back from the edge of trenches and that earthmoving plant is a safe distance from the edge of excavations. Make sure unattended front-end loaders, backhoes and excavators are always left with the bucket fully lowered to the ground. When parked overnight alongside roads or on other public space, make sure earthmoving plant is locked up and barricaded with warning lamps to alert traffic.

3. Are workers protected from trench collapse?

Never allow workers to enter a trench or shaft which is greater than 1.5 metres deep unless it has been safely battered back, or it has been properly shored, or the workers are fully protected within a trench shield. Shoring should be positioned and fixed from above; never from below. All timber used in ground support should be at least F8 grade hardwood. Never use softwood because this can fail suddenly without warning, whereas hardwood will start to creak loudly when it is becoming overloaded, warning workers to leave the trench immediately. Make sure all workers in excavations always wear safety helmets.

4. Are confined space precautions needed?

Where there is any possibility of a hazardous atmosphere within an excavation, the extra precautions for entry into confined spaces must be put in place. (Examples and advice can be found in WorkSafe's publication Confined Spaces -- Shafts, Tunnels & Trenches.)

5. Are people safeguarded from falling into excavations?

Make sure trenches, shafts and excavations are properly barricaded, covered or isolated to prevent people falling into them. Whenever an excavation is to be left unattended, make sure it is secured to prevent children or other people from wandering into danger.

6. Is there safe access to trenches and shafts?

Never allow workers to climb up and down the soldier sets used in trench shoring, because they can loosen or damage the support system, triggering a trench collapse. Make sure industrial-grade portable ladders are used to gain access to the excavation floor.

7. Is someone else always present when a worker is below ground?

Never allow anyone to work alone in a trench or shaft. Make sure there is always another person close by who can provide help or get help if necessary.

8. Are open excavations being regularly inspected?

The condition of soil surrounding trenches and shafts can change quickly due to the soil drying out, changes in the water table or water saturation of the soil. Make sure the soil condition and the state of shoring, battering and trenches walls is frequently checked for signs of earth fretting, slipping, slumping or ground swelling. Where necessary, repair the excavation or strengthen the shoring system from above before allowing work below ground to continue.
Further Information

Note: This material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe Victoria. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, the Victorian WorkCover Authority extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances.

Acts and Regulations

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

Acts and Regulations are available from Information Victoria on 1300 366 356. If you only want to view the legislation you can use the Parliament of Victoria web site; go to,

click on "Victorian Law Today" and scroll down to the "Search" window.

Further information

WorkSafe Victoria Publications

View and download guidance material from WorkSafe Victoria web site, , or contact your local Worksafe office.
Other useful construction information is available on WorkSafe's Construction and Utilities web page.


WorkCover NSW has published a useful publication Guide for Front End Loader and Excavator Drivers. You can obtain a copy by telephoning (02) 4321 5000.