Toolbox Talks

Presented by Mark Solano, CHST. and the Laborers Training School

February 5, 2024

Don’t Get Caught in the Trenches!

A Summary of OSHA's Rules on Trenching and Excavation

What is a Competent Person?

Trenching and Excavation can be a very dangerous task if the OSHA standards are not followed correctly. Many hazards can be associated with excavating such as cave-ins, equipment or soil crushing workers, falling into the trench, water accumulation, hazardous atmosphere, buried gas lines, and struck-by hazards.

A competent person is an individual, designated by the employer, who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to workers, and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

While onsite at an excavation project, there needs to be at least one competent person onsite before any worker enters a trench. The competent person will inspect trenches daily and monitor any changes of the trench. This person shall have extensive knowledge in excavation, and be able to determine any potential hazard and take prompt corrective measures to eliminate or control that hazard.

For a detail description of a trenching and excavating competent person, please read the 01.29.24 post.

Though only a single competent person is required, we recommend that all employees on the jobsite are familiar with the 1926.651 & 1926.652 trenching and excavation OSHA standards.

The Importance of Protective Systems

Benching is a type of method where the excavator will dig steps or levels to eliminate the potential of a cave-in. Benching cannot be done in type C soil.

Sloping is done by cutting back a portion of the excavation to a certain degree to eliminate a cave-in.

Shoring is a type of method that is done by installing hydraulic beams or other equipment to push against the soil to eliminate any soil movements.

Shielding is completed by using a trench box that is lowered into the excavation to eliminate any type of cave-in.

Remember This Rule!

5-4-3-2-1 Rule:

5. Any trench over 5 feet must be protected from a cave-in. A competent person can make the decision that a protective system is needed if under 5 feet.

4. Remember the ladder:

Any trench greater than 4 feet must have a ladder for exit and egress.

3. Remember that the ladder must extend at least 3 feet out of the trench in order to allow for easy access.

2. Don’t forget to keep all spoil piles at least 2 feet back from the excavation or trench.

1. One competent person must be onsite at all times to determine any hazards and to control or eliminate those hazards.


Mark Solano, CHST.

Laborers Training School Safety Officer

I entered the construction industry in the summer of 1979, faced with a choice from my father, who was president of Local 652 at the time: go to college or join the Laborers. I chose the Laborers.  

I attended the Laborers Training School in Anza during the summer of 1980. Throughout my career, I worked with several respected companies, including Granite, Silverado, and Full Traffic Maintenance. 

My passion for safety ignited during my time at Granite and I later assumed the role of Safety Manager at Griffith Company. This journey led me to serve on the subcommittee for Laborers Local 652 in Santa Ana in a management capacity.  

It was there that I first learned of the position of Safety Officer at the Laborers Training School. Recognizing it as my calling, I embraced the opportunity to be part of a program that imparts knowledge ,experience, and safety values to young apprentices. It's both an honor and privilege to serve Laborer Local unions and contractors across Southern California.

"The path of safety and service is a rewarding one, built on sharing knowledge, experiences, and shaping a safer tomorrow."