No two ground disturbances are alike, but whether you’re quarrying, ditching, or excavating, there are five hazards common to ground disturbance. By learning what they are and how to manage them, you can prevent the risk of an incident.

1. Hazard: Contacting buried facilities

The infrastructure under our feet is vast and safely buried from sight. Common buried facilities include everything from pipelines containing oil to utilities, telecommunication lines, and natural gas. When ground disturbance is conducted, there’s a risk of contacting these underground facilities.

Ground Disturbance - Locating

To prevent contact to underground facilities:

  • Ensure relevant employees receive Ground Disturbance training and are familiar with the Ground Disturbance Code of Practice
  • Conduct research regarding the location of underground facilities, and then obtain line locates for your planned ground disturbance and the search area beyond it
  • Use hand exposure instead of mechanical exposure
  • Protect the exposed facilities using suitable equipment and materials

2. Trench or excavation instability

The old schoolyard rule applies to the sides of your ground disturbance as much as it does to bullies. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. When the walls of your ground disturbance aren’t shored, cut back, or supported correctly, you face serious danger.

To ensure the walls of your excavation are stable:

  • Ensure relevant employees receive training for working around trenches and excavations
  • Follow trench and excavation-specific safe work practices
  • Support and shore your trench and excavation walls using suitable equipment and materials

3. Environmental hazards (heat, cold, weather)

Regardless of the season, or your location, ground disturbance can leave you at the mercy of the weather. The weather can change rapidly throughout the work day and may have an impact on your well-being. It is important to keep an eye on weather patterns and come prepared to deal with variable conditions.

To prevent exposure to the elements:

  • Follow applicable safe work practices and set exposure limits and rest periods
  • Wear weather appropriate clothing to protect from extreme temperatures and moisture
  • Stop work if weather conditions can potentially affect life and health

4. Hand exposing buried facilities

Even though hand exposure lessens the risk of puncturing, breaking, and scraping underground facilities, contact may still occur if not executed appropriately.

To prevent contact during hand exposure:

  • Follow safe work practices, including steps for de-energizing lines, or running at a lesser capacity
  • Use nonconductive tool handles for things like shovels
  • Use a hydrovac or an air vac

5. Stray electrical currents

Ground disturbances have the potential for stray electrical currents, which can cause a number of risks on a ground disturbance site, including sparking and electrocution.

To prevent electrical hazards:

  • Follow applicable safe work practices that address electrical safety including grounding and bonding
  • Use nonconductive tools
  • Keep conductive electronics, such as cell phones, away from the ground disturbance site

For more information, we recommend accessing the Alberta Common Ground Alliance’s resources on their website, or taking SafetyVantage’s Ground Disturbance for Supervisor’s course, which provides an in-depth understanding of ground disturbance, it’s related hazards, and damage prevention.

About SafetyVantage

SafetyVantage is a leading provider of technology-based educational curriculum and assessment solutions for the occupational health and safety (OHS) industry. Well-known for providing practical, engaging, and relevant solutions, the Alberta-based company has significant expertise and experience in the OHS compliance and training space.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: SafetyVantage provides information about topical OH&S issues to assist existing and potential customers to cope with their own OH&S needs. SafetyVantage believes that the information and guidelines provided are consistent with industry practices at the time the information was compiled. It is not intended to be legal information or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your situation