Stay Safe When You Dig

Using Road Plates & Trench Boxes

ARA road plates and trench boxes

Both trench boxes and road plates are necessary for keeping workers, pedestrians and drivers safe throughout the construction process. Both tools are essential to safety in the digging phase of your construction projects. Trench boxes are designed to hold up the soil while digging, and road plates are a temporary solution for covering potholes, trenches and unstable ground. Both pieces of equipment are available to rent, saving you the cost and inconvenience of storing them year-round. Plus, you get the added benefit of rental partners being able to explain the proper use of and requirements related to the equipment.

Trench Boxes

The use of trench boxes on an excavation site can significantly reduce the risk of potential injury and even death. A cubic yard of soil weighs more than 2,000 pounds, posing a great danger for anyone in the hole during a collapse. Trench boxes are two-sided support systems that stabilize the soil, preventing it from collapsing in. They’re often used while digging and excavating soil, pouring foundations, and repairing underground wiring and piping.

Trench boxes are heavy and awkward, making them dangerous to handle. Too often, contractors are unaware of how to use them correctly or decide to take shortcuts during installation. As tempting as shortcuts may be, a lack of time or knowledge puts your employees’ lives at risk. Trench boxes need to be installed in a way that they don’t shift laterally if the earth begins to cave in unexpectedly. See below for more installation requirements from OSHA.

Road Plates

You’ve likely driven across a road plate in areas of road construction. Road plates are extremely versatile on a construction site since they can be used to cover up ground hazards or any type of dangerous area. That area can either be a danger to the public or to construction site workers.

Compact equipment rated for the proper weight is needed to transport and place road plates. Of course, they need to be heavy to adequately cover problem areas, but that weight also means they require machinery to move. To estimate the size of loader needed and provide a realistic idea of their weight, smaller 4×8-ft plates typically weigh about 1,000 pounds, while average-sized 8×12-ft plates weigh anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 pounds depending on the thickness. Larger 10×20-ft plates can reach more than 8,000 pounds. As with all heavy construction equipment, it’s important to exercise great caution and follow safety guidelines when handling road plates.

OSHA requirements

This is not a comprehensive list, but general guidelines for maintaining a safe dig site. For more information on OSHA requirements, refer to regulations 1926.650-.652.

  1. Once a trench reaches 5 feet deep, OSHA requires the use of a protective system. A trench box is one of the protective systems you can use. If the soil has high sand or mud content, it has a greater chance of collapsing. In that case, you may need to use a trench box for depths less than 5 feet, as well.
  1. The distance between the bottom of the trench box and the floor of the trench should be kept under 2 feet. The gap should not exceed that height. If there’s any indication that the soil is collapsing, keep the distance between the two even smaller.
  1. Trench boxes can be stacked on top of one another as the trench deepens. Ensure adequate safety by checking that each trench box is designed to resist the soil pressure at the depth it’s being used.
  1. Do not attempt to install, move or remove a trench box while workers remain in the trench. The movement could cause the soil to shift and cave in, or the trench box could strike a worker.
  1. Additional protective systems such as sloping and benching can be used alongside trench boxes. If you go that route, the trench box must extend 18 inches above the excavation walls to prevent debris from rolling into the trench — unless the top of the trench box is at ground level, in which the requirement does not apply.

If there’s an insecurity about how to use them correctly, consult a rental expert or refer to the OSHA requirements.


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