Toolbox Talks

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

February 5, 2024

Trenching & Excavation Competent Person

What is a Competent Person for Excavation and Trenches

Excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. OSHA defines a competent person is someone who is capable of identifying existing hazards and can foresee preventable 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.

Our competent person training will help your employees become knowledgeable about the applicable standards and help them be able to identify workplace hazards. This training also contains the requirements for excavation and trenching operations.

Under the Excavation standards, task performed by the competent person include:

• Classifying soil

• Inspecting protective systems

• Designing structural ramps

• Monitoring water removal equipment; and

• Conducting site inspections

• The Requirements of the standard

• Must be capable of identifying hazards, and to immediately eliminate hazards.

Competent persons shall conduct daily inspections of the excavation itself, adjacent areas, and the protective systems in place. Any indication of possible failure of these systems, a cave-in, or exposure to a hazardous atmosphere/condition must be identified. The inspection shall be conducted before the start of work and as needed throughout the shift when conditions change including inclement weather or other newly present hazards. Inspections shall be done when employee exposure is reasonably anticipated.

The difference between Trenches and Excavations:

Excavation – a man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal.

Trench – a narrow excavation (in length). The depth is greater than the width but not wider than 15 feet.

A competent person also examines any materials or equipment for damages and to

evaluate its sustainability for continued use. If they cannot ensure that it is suitable for use, the damaged material or equipment must be removed from service until it has been

repaired by a registered professional engineer or replace.

Structural ramps used for access or egress of equipment shall be designed by a competent person qualified in structural design, and shall be constructed in accordance with the design.

The following concerns must be addressed by a competent person:

• Evaluate soil conditions and select appropriate protective systems.

• Construct protective systems in accordance with the standard requirements.

• Preplan for work: contact utility companies (gas, electric) to locate underground

lines, plan for traffic control, and determine proximity to structures that could affect

the choice of the protective system.

• Test for low oxygen, hazardous fumes, and toxic gases. This is especially important

when gasoline engine-driven equipment is running, or the dirt has been

contaminated by leaking lines or storage tanks. Ensure adequate ventilation is

present or respiratory protection is in use if necessary.

• Provide safe egress access into and out of the excavation.

• Provide appropriate protection if water accumulation is a problem.

• Inspect the site daily at the start of each shift, following a rainstorm, or after any

other hazard-increasing event.

• Keep excavations open the minimum amount of time needed to complete


• Surface crossing of trenches should not be made unless absolutely necessary.

However, they are permitted under the following conditions:

o Vehicle crossings must be designed by and installed under the supervision

of a registered professional engineer.

• Walkways or bridges must:

o have a minimum clear width of 20 inches,

o be fitted with standard rails, and

o extend a minimum of 24 inches past the surface edge of the trench


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."