Excavation and Trenching

Excavation is any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in an earth surface, formed by earth removal.

A trench is a narrow excavation (in relation to its length) made below the surface of the ground. In general, the depth is greater than the width, but the width of a trench (measured at the bottom) is no greater than 15 feet (4.6 m).

Excavation and Trenching

Tab/Accordion Items

What are the hazards associated with excavations?

Excavation work presents serious hazards to all workers involved. Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres and incidents involving mobile equipment adjacent to excavations.


What can I do to protect myself?

Employers are required to designate a competent person who has the knowledge and training to properly classify soil types, including how to determine if soil has been previously disturbed, and to specify the appropriate type of sloping or reinforcement necessary to prevent a cave-in while workers are working within an excavation, especially a trench. Identify the nearest means of egress from a trench. The employer must ensure that means of egress are available within 25 feet for workers in a trench.

What resources are available to assist employers?

Training and Outreach Services

The trenching and excavation presentation can be downloaded and modified to address site-specific conditions and hazards. In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. This pre-recorded webinar on excavations and trenching can also be accessed at any time. 

Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).

A-Z Safety and Health Topics

In addition, the A-Z topics page on confined spaces can provide additional resource information.

Consultation Services

The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.


Which standards apply?

OSH has adopted the following standards which are applicable to excavation and trenching in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic. 

Construction Industry

Other Applicable Standards

The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.  

Where can I learn more?

Industry Guides

Fact Sheets

Compliance Documents

Technical Assistance

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to ask.osh@labor.nc.gov or by calling 919-707-7876.