Excavation issues are always of importance to SH&E professionals in the construction industry. We will discuss the importance of the Competent Person and identify their critical duties and responsibilities. By the end of our session every attendee should leave with a clear and practical picture of what is required to be classified as a Competent Person and the issues to be faced in the workplace.

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Each year in the United States, an estimated 100 deaths occur and over 1,000 workers are injured in excavation accidents. Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. This presentation describes the duties of the Competent Person in the workplace as it relates to excavation and trenching operations performed in the construction industry. When we evaluate the need for safety during excavations the prime responsibility is always to the safety of our personnel.

Competent Person Duties
Competent Person

Regardless of the depth of the excavation, OSHA requires a competent person to inspect conditions at the site on a daily basis. Inspections must be made as frequently as necessary during the progress of work, to assure that the hazards associated with excavations are eliminated, before workers are allowed to enter the trench.

The competent person shall conduct inspections:

  • Daily and before the start of each shift.

  • As dictated by the work being done in the trench.

  • After every rain storm.

  • After other events that could increase hazards, such as snowstorm, windstorm, thaw, earthquake, dramatic change in weather, etc.

  • When fissures, tension cracks, sloughing, undercutting, water seepage, bulging at the bottom, or other similar conditions occur.

  • When there is a change in the size, location, or placement of the spoil pile.

  • When there is any indication of change or movement in adjacent structures.

The competent person has the mandate to remove any employee from a hazardous condition until all necessary changes have been implemented to ensure their safety.


Pre-planning is essential to providing employees a safe trenching. The competent person should determining if equipment or traffic could cause vibrations to excavation walls, initiate the location of underground utilities, impact of adjacent structures and other outside influences that could impact the trench.


Soil is heavy. A cubic foot can weigh as much as 110 pounds, and a cubic yard can weigh between 3,000 and 4,000 lbs.-a little more than a small Pickup Truck. A person buried under only a few feet of soil can experience enough pressure in the chest area to prevent the lungs from expanding. Suffocation can take place in as little as three minutes while heavier soils can crush the body in a matter of seconds. And to know, for that moment you may never see your loved one's again.

The texture of the soil is a key to its stability. Cohesion is the ability of a soil to stick together instead of crumbling.

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