Manually digging and trenching can be very physically demanding work, made even more dangerous when proper techniques are not employed. Potential hazards recognized by OSHA include:
- Muscle strain from attempting to lift too much dirt at one time
- Overexertion and muscle pain caused by digging for extended periods of time
- Awkward positions while digging, such as twisting the back or knee
The agency points out several ergonomic solutions that can help eliminate the risk of injury from manually digging:
- Rather than twisting at the torso, move your feet and turn your entire body when digging or moving dirt.
- Use tools with long handles to prevent excessive bending of the torso.
- Make sure you are using the correct shovel for the job:
- Round-bladed shovels should be used for sand and dry earth.
- Square-bladed shovels should be used for coarse material.
- Use shovels with a rolled step for digging in hard earth.
- Use smaller trenching shovels to minimize the weight of materials lifted.
- Break jobs into smaller tasks no longer than 15 minutes in length, alternating with non-
- Alternate between shoveling on the left and right side of the body.
- Reduce throwing distance by placing wheelbarrows close to the digging area. Ideally, throw distance should be between 3 and 4 feet.
- Always use proper personal protective equipment.
- When possible, use a mechanical device such as a trencher or a backhoe to assist with digging.