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    Safety Tips | Ergonomics

    Ergonomic digging techniques

    September 1, 2010

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    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-
      digging tasks.
    • 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.

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