Safety Tips Ergonomics

Ergonomic digging techniques

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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