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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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