John Deere Maintenance Monday: Trench safety | Living the Country Life
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John Deere Maintenance Monday: Trench safety

There are certain safety precautions to follow when you're thinking about digging a trench.

Radio interview source: Dick Parish, Ag Engineering Consultant, LSU Ag Center

Listen here to the radio story (mp3) or read below

In this edition of Maintenance Monday, we're answering a question from Carl in Oregon. He plans to rent a back hoe for his compact tractor so he can do some trenching work. He's not sure how deep he'll have to go, but what safety precautions should he follow?
 
Ag engineering consultant Dick Parish says the biggest risk is overturning the tractor. 
 
"Literally, you get into a situation where the tail's wagging the dog," he says. "When you swing a backhoe bucket hard, it can overturn a tractor. So it's important that the operator have a roll-over protective structure on the tractor, and have his seatbelt fastened. It's also important that he have the stabilizers down and the front loader bucket down so the tractor's not supported on the tires when using the back hoe, so that you don't have the resilience of the tires to make it rock more."
 
Parish says if you have to stand in the trench, be aware that it may be unstable and there is a risk of it collapsing on top of you. 
 
With good soils, OSHA says you can go five-feet deep without taking any precautions, without sloping the sides or putting in structural reinforcing," he says. "Now this depends on the soil, and again we're talking about people who are not professional engineers dealing with soil types. And they may not be able to recognize stable soil, or an unstable soil. So I think if you get down much more below about three-feet, I would recommend taking some precautions."
 
This includes putting up a material such as plywood on each side of the trench, and adding strong braces between them. An alternative is to slope the sides so they're not vertical and steep. Parish says the general OSHA recommendation is that the slope of the sides should be one-and-a-half-to-two-feet of horizontal distance for every foot of vertical drop. In other words, a five-foot-deep trench would slope out on each side from seven-and-a-half-to-ten-feet. 

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