Health and Safety Authority warns of risks of excavation work

The Health and Safety Authority has begun an inspection and awareness campaign targeting the construction sector. Five workers have died during excavations or been buried in excavated earth over the past five years.

HSA agents will inspect construction sites nationwide over the next fortnight, focusing on excavation safety and safety in timber-frame house erection: “In the past five years, there have been five fatal accidents, where workers were killed as a result of an excavation collapse or from engulfment in earth or other materials.”

The authority wants to raise awareness of the risks of excavation on-site.

“Working in excavations can be particularly dangerous and it is important that a competent person carries out a thorough examination of the excavation, prior to anybody entering it,” said Michael McDonagh, HSA head of construction policy.

“Subsequently, it must be inspected by a competent person daily or before each shift begins. 

“Another thorough examination of the excavation and support equipment must be undertaken every seven days thereafter, or after any alteration, and written records of this inspection must be kept.”

It is important to focus on surface conditions, the excavation banks, access and egress, shoring equipment, and, of course, the weather conditions.”

Mr McDonagh said timber-frame houses pose particular safety challenges.

“Timber-frame houses are again becoming popular with builders. They provide a quick-and-efficient method for construction of housing.

“However, they pose some different challenges, in relation to safety, than those presented when using traditional building methods. When constructing timber-frame houses, it is important to consider: loading and unloading of frames, handling of frames on site, supporting the frames during erection, fire issues during the construction stage, working-at-height issues, including different scaffolding requirements.”

Employers must risk-assess their work and ensure appropriate controls are identified and implemented. Precautions that must be taken during excavation work include:

  • Battering back the sides of the excavation;
  • Use of shoring, sheet piling, and trench boxes;
  • Alternative methods, such as directional drilling, may be considered at design stage;
  • Care must be taken not to undermine any structures adjacent to excavations;
  • Edge protection to be installed to prevent workers and materials falling into the excavations;
  • Safe access/egress to/from the excavation.


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