The February 2016 issue of Incident Prevention featured “Trenching by the Numbers” (see http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first installment in this series on advanced trenching and shoring principles. In that article, I reviewed the OSHA excavations standard found at 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P. The purpose of reviewing the rules was to give readers a starting point upon which to build more advanced concepts. In this article, I will continue the series with an in-depth discussion about the principles of soil mechanics.
Throughout the years I have worked in the utility industry, I have observed a systemic deficiency when it comes to training and educating the workforce about soil mechanics. This deficiency impacts nearly everyone, from employees in the field to civil engineers who design the work to be done. In practice, what I tend to see is training that begins with teaching enforceable standards and concludes with an overview of some methods for classifying soils. This is problematic because employers may end up with employees who merely understand how to classify soil in order to comply with a standard, instead of having comprehensive knowledge about how to harness the naturally occurring characteristics of soil to keep workers safe and make jobs run more smoothly.